By ROBERT CAPOBIANCO, MD
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—the perfect time to discuss the importance of mammography. Because breast cancer is often detectable in its early stages when there’s a good chance for a cure, screening is essential to early detection. Most significantly, mammography can identify tumors even before they can be felt.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2012 (the most recent year numbers are available), 224,147 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 41,150 women died from the disease.
The American Cancer Society recommends women have yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continue for as long as a woman is in good health. If a woman is at high risk for developing breast cancer, her doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, along with additional imaging studies. Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have other tests or start testing at an earlier age.
The Digital Mammography Center at St. Cloud Regional Medical Center provides breast cancer screening services. It is part of St. Cloud Regional Medical Center’s comprehensive breast care services provided in the heart of the St. Cloud community.
Screening and Diagnostic Mammography
A conventional screening mammogram is a low-dose X-ray test that creates images of breast tissue doctors can check for lesions or other abnormalities. The x-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt, and can find tiny deposits of calcium called microcalcifications that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.
A mammogram used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease is called a diagnostic mammogram. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign or non-cancerous breast conditions.
At the Digital Mammography Center at St. Cloud Regional Medical Center, women who undergo routine mammograms also have up-to-date diagnostic technology available with digital mammography.
While digital imaging feels almost identical to conventional mammography, its benefits are a shorter exam time than traditional mammograms, and less chance that patients will be called back for repeat exams.
Digital images tend to provide doctors with better visibility of the breast, chest wall and dense breast tissue. Through computer-aided technology, radiologists are able to enhance certain areas of the digital images to get a more precise picture of a patient’s condition. The digital images can also be stored electronically, and later retrieved to share with other doctors if needed in the future.
Through the Affordable Care Act, all Marketplace health plans and many other private plans must cover breast cancer mammography screenings every 1 to 2 years for women over 40 without charging a copayment or coinsurance. Women should contact their mammography facility or health insurance company for confirmation. In addition, Medicare pays for annual screening mammograms for all female Medicare beneficiaries age 40 or older.
Visit StCloudRegional.com to learn more about breast screening options. For more information on various breast diseases and conditions, the anatomy of breasts, other screening tools and more, visit StCloudRegional.com, choose the “Health Resources” tab and type “Breast Health” in the search box.
Dr. Robert Capobianco is a Board Certified General Surgeon and recipient of the Herbert A. Schulte, M.D. Award – Excellence in Surgery. He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Brown University and his medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.