The Benefits of Mammograms
When it comes to screening for breast cancer, mammography is still the best tool we have. Mammograms are extremely beneficial and safe, and can significantly improve the outcome of a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Mammography, although not perfect, is the most reliable screening study we have to detect breast cancer,” said Lynn Lucas-Fehm, MD, Department of Radiology at Abington - Jefferson Health. “A mammogram allows us to see tumors that are too small to be felt, and the smaller a tumor is when detected, the more likely it is to be curable and the better the chances are for the patient to survive.”
It’s true that mammography has its flaws. Normal breast tissue can sometimes hide breast cancer, leading to a false-negative, and some abnormalities may result in a false-positive reading.
Fortunately, there are advances helping to overcome some of these issues. At Abington - Jefferson Health, there is now a new tool that holds great promise for being even more effective than mammography. It’s called digital tomosynthesis, and it creates a three-dimensional image of the breast, allowing the physician to have a better view of any abnormalities. Multiple X-ray pictures from many angles are taken of each breast, producing the 3-D image.
“It’s like going from an old black-and-white television to a brand new HD color flat screen TV,” said Dr. Lucas-Fehm. “Mammograms are still our first tool, but the fact that we can also offer tomosynthesis and other types of imaging helps us to keep women healthy.”
While breast cancer remains the second most common cancer diagnosed among women, the outlook has improved tremendously over the last 40 years. The disease is highly curable if and when detected early enough to treat. In the past, women would often have a mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) to get rid of the cancer. However, today, mammograms and tools such as tomosynthesis allow doctors to make a diagnosis before the cancer spreads. This allows most patients to undergo less-invasive forms of treatment.
According to BreastCancer.org, mammograms have been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35 percent in women over the age of 50. And that number is difficult to ignore.
However, it’s important to note that among all women who receive mammograms, only ten percent have to return to their doctor. And of that ten percent, the majority turns out to be cancer-free.
So when should you get a mammogram?
A number of health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, recommend that all women begin screening mammograms at age 40 and every year after that.
If you’re at high risk for breast cancer and have a family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to begin annual screenings at a younger age. Be sure to discuss with your physician.
And it’s certainly worth it. “Early detection with mammography saves lives,” said Dr. Lucas-Fehm.
To schedule your mammogram, call 215-481-EXAM (3926).