Month Stresses Importance Of Breast Cancer Awareness
The fight against breast cancer is a yearlong campaign involving breast cancer awareness, education and research for international public service organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies.
However, for those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, and for those in the medical community, the month of October is special. This marks the 24th year that October is designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
While the focus of the month is breast cancer awareness and early detection, the goal is also to raise funds for research and provide increased access to screening mammography, since a mammogram is the most effective weapon against breast cancer.
Women can feel assured about the benefits associated with regular screening mammograms for the early detection of breast cancer, as current evidence of mammography's effectiveness remains strong, according to a news release from Pinehurst Radiology. However, mammograms have limitations. Some cancers will not show up, and some findings lead to biopsies that are not cancer (benign).
Patients should understand the benefits and limitations of any imaging exam, including mammography, according to Pinehurst Radiology.
Nonetheless, mammography remains the most valuable tool for decreasing death from breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older get a screening mammogram every year, and they should continue to do so as long they are in good health.
In addition, women over 40 should have a clinical breast exam by a health professional every year.
Monthly self-breast exam is also important in finding breast cancer since it allows a woman to know how her breasts look and feel normally and notice any changes. Any breast changes should be reported to a health professional right away.
Mammography requires a trained technologist to use X-rays to produce an image of the breast tissue on film or computer screen. That image is then interpreted (read) by a radiologist. Radiologists are doctors with specialized training in diagnosing diseases by looking inside the body using images created by X-ray (CT, mammography, X-ray), ultrasound waves, magnetic fields (MRI), and other means.
Statistically, only two to four screening mammograms out of 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer, according to the news release from Pinehurst Radiology. About 10 percent of women who have a mammogram will require more work-up, but most will need only additional mammogram views.
It is important not to be overly concerned if additional testing is required beyond mammography, as only 8 percent to 10 percent of those women will need a biopsy, and most of those biopsies (80 percent) will not be cancer, the news release said.
Mammograms should be performed only at FDA-accredited facilities, preferably by technologists with advanced certification in mammography.
The quality of the mammogram images is extremely important, but ultimately it is the "reading" of the mammogram that matters the most, according to the news release.
A radiologist's experience with mammography is critical to studying the images in order to detect breast cancer or accurately report an exam as negative. Patients should familiarize themselves with the qualifications of the radiologists who interpret their mammograms, just as they would for other physician services.
Useful suggestions to ensure a good quality mammogram include:
- Look for FDA certification to know that a facility meets professional standards of safety and quality for mammography.
If it is not posted in view, ask to see the FDA certificate. In addition, facilities that have received accreditation from the American College of Radiology (ACR) have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in the performance of mammograms.
- Use a facility that either specializes in mammography or does many mammograms each day.
- If you are satisfied that the facility is of high quality, go there consistently so that your mammograms can be compared from year to year.
- If you are going to a facility for the first time, bring a list of the places, dates of mammograms, biopsies, or other breast treatments you have had before.
- If you have had mammograms at another facility, make every attempt to bring those mammograms with you to the new facility (or have them sent there) so that they can be compared to the new ones.
- Use a facility with experienced radiologists. If you are unsure about the physician's qualifications, ask about his or her training and the number of mammograms interpreted each year.
Women who are over 40 years of age or have a family history of breast cancer, and have not had a mammogram within the past 12 months, are urged to talk with their physicians about having a screening mammogram, according to Pinehurst Radiology.
Early detection is essential in the fight against breast cancer.
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