Memorial Regional Health: Breast cancer — be aware

Memorial Regional Health
For Craig Press
An annual mammogram starting at age 40 can help with early detection. A mammogram takes about 15 minutes, and while a little uncomfortable, is not painful.
Memorial Regional Health/Courtesy photo

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s time to remind ourselves that second only to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. In Colorado, an estimated 4,730 women will receive a breast-cancer diagnosis in 2022 alone, and 670 will die of breast cancer. In American women overall, about one in eight will develop breast cancer at some point in their life.

But the good news about breast cancer is that early detection works. Not only does it save lives, but it makes treatment simpler and more effective. Caught early enough, breast cancer is curable.

Stay up-to-date with mammograms

Mammograms are key. Research proves that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer detected sooner, are less likely to need aggressive treatments like mastectomy and chemotherapy, and are more likely to be cured if they do develop breast cancer.

Risk factors for breast cancer include a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancers, a known genetic mutation that increases risk (such as the BRCA gene) and having had chest radiation therapy under the age of 30. Additional risk factors include age (most cancers are found in women older than 55), taking hormones, having dense breasts, and lack of physical activity and/or being overweight after menopause.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women with average risk of breast cancer talk to their health care provider at age 40 about starting annual mammograms. From 45 to 54, annual mammograms are recommended. Women 55 and older may be able to switch to every-other-year mammograms but should discuss the schedule that’s right for them with their provider.

Women at higher risk of breast cancer, on the other hand, should get a mammogram every year, typically starting at age 30. Men with inherited BRCA gene mutation should also get screening mammograms.

Symptoms of breast cancer

Women should also be on the lookout for breast-cancer symptoms. The most common is a new lump or mass in the breast, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer lumps are usually painless and feel hard to the touch, typically with irregular edges.

Other symptoms involve irregularities on or around the breast. Women should be on the watch for swelling in part of all of the breast (even with no lumps present), skin dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge, swollen lymph nodes and breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened. If anything seems weird or different, it’s best to get it checked out.

3D mammograms available locally

In addition to 2D mammograms, 3D mammogram technology is available at the breast diagnostic center within Memorial Regional Health’s diagnostic imaging department. 3D mammograms offer the advantage of clearer images, making it easier for radiologists to spot abnormalities. Research shows that 3D mammography in combination with standard digital mammography raises cancer detection rates over 40 percent.

As needed, MRH staff also provides services for breast ultrasounds and ultrasound-guide needle biopsies.

To schedule a mammogram at Memorial Regional Health, patients need an order from their health care provider. For more information, call the radiology department at 970-826-2230. To schedule an appointment, call 970-826-3150.

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