Early detection key in surviving breast cancer

September 26, 2007
The pink ribbons that are so visible this time each year serve as a reminder that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is also a reminder that early detection of the disease is vital to surviving breast cancer. The best way to detect the disease in its earliest stages is to have a screening mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, once a year after age 40. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent when breast cancer is detected early, before it spreads to other areas of the body. A screening mammogram may show that cancer is present, even when a lump is still too small to be felt by a woman or her doctor, or when there are no other symptoms such as a pain or nipple discharge. Who should have a mammogram?Women 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. There is no fixed age at which women should stop getting mammograms. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular check up by a health professional at least every 3 years. Women at increased risk due to family history or past breast cancer should talk with their doctor about starting mammograms when they are younger, having additional tests or having more frequent exams. Women should discuss with their doctor what is best for them. What should you expect during a mammogram?During a mammogram, one breast at a time is pressed between two plastic plates that are attached to a mammography unit. This keeps the breast still and spreads the tissue out evenly so that the image is clearer. Although this compression may cause minor discomfort, it only lasts for a few seconds and is necessary to produce a good image, which will be evaluated by a certified radiologist. The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes. To make the mammogram procedure as comfortable as possible for patients, Pender Memorial Hospital now uses soft foam cushions, called MammoPads®, during every screening mammogram. The MammoPad breast cushion is FDA-cleared, does not impair image quality, and makes it easier for the patient to be relaxed, warm and comfortable during her exam. Tips for a getting a quality mammogramTry not to schedule a mammogram when your breasts are likely to be tender, such as just before or during your period. Always describe any breast symptoms or problems that you are having to the technologist who is doing the mammogram. Be prepared to describe your medical history such as prior surgeries, hormone use and family or personal history of breast cancer. Also, discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor or nurse before having a mammogram. On the day of the screening, don’t wear deodorant or antiperspirant. These products may contain substances that can appear on the x-ray film as white spots. You may find it convenient to wear a skirt or pants so that you only need to remove your blouse for the exam. A gown is provided for you to wear until it’s time for the procedure. A technologist, usually a female, is the only one present with you during the exam to position your breasts. It is wise to go to the same place each time you have a mammogram so the images from before are available for comparison from year to year. If you are going to a facility for the first time, bring a list of the dates and facilities of all previous mammograms, as well as information on biopsies or other breast treatments you have had before. You should make every attempt to get previous mammogram films to bring with you (or have them sent) so that they can be compared to the new images. All radiology tests performed at Pender Memorial Hospital, including x-ray, mammography, CT and MRI scans, are done by certified technologists and interpreted by Delaney Radiologists. Pender Memorial Hospital is affiliated with New Hanover Regional Medical Center and offers comparable services in a convenient location for Pender County residents. If you have a had mammogram previously at any New Hanover Regional Medical Center facility, including the NHRMC Medical Mall or the Forum Diagnostic Center, or at Delaney Radiology, your films will be available for comparison at PMH as well. What happens if I have a lump in my breast?Each year, more than 550 women in Pender and Duplin counties have mammograms that suggest a biopsy should be performed to rule out cancer. Previously, women would require a surgical biopsy or they were forced to drive more than an hour to have the less invasive stereotatic procedure. Now women can choose to have the stereotatic biopsy performed close to home on a specially equipped Mobile Biopsy Unit that comes to the Pender Memorial campus in Burgaw monthly. This new technique allows a patient to have the biopsy performed through a very small incision that doesn’t require stitches and can be done without having to go into the operating room. In this one-hour outpatient procedure, performed by Dr. Larry Dashow, board-certified general surgeon on the PMH medical staff, the woman lies on a special table while the doctor places a tiny probe through a small incision about the size of a match head. A local anesthetic is given to minimize any discomfort. With assistance from a specially trained radiology technologist using x-ray imaging, the doctor can accurately pinpoint the suspicious tissue and remove a sample for further examination. The incision does not require stitches and the patient can generally return to normal activity immediately. How do I make an appointment?To schedule an appointment for your annual screening mammogram, call (910) 259-5451 ext. 204 today or ask your physician to refer you to Pender Memorial Hospital. If you require a biopsy, discuss your options with your physician to see if a stereotatic biopsy available at Pender Memorial Hospital is right for you. # # #