Over the last couple of years, mammograms have been at the epicenter of cancer screening controversy. From disagreements over screening guidelines to claims that it might not be as effective as people say it is, there's a lot of confusion and misinformation out there.
But we're here to clarify and state that 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 Dr. Linda Griska, director of Breast Health Services at Abington Health and medical director of Mary T. Sachs Breast Center. "Early diagnosis with mammography 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."
Although breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed among women, it's important to know that the outlook has improved tremendously over the last 40 years. Contrary to what you may have heard, breast cancer is highly curable if and when detected early enough to treat. And we have modern day treatment and the widespread use of mammograms to thank for that.
While women traditionally would have had a mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) to get rid of the cancer, mammograms allow doctors to make a diagnosis before the cancer grows and/or spreads. This allows most patients to undergo less-invasive forms of treatment.
According to Breast Cancer.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.
Mammography also happens to be the most powerful breast cancer detection tool out there. Even still, 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. As a result, doctors will occasionally use other important tools, such as MRIs or ultrasounds, to confirm and/or identify cancer.
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 turn out to be cancer-free.
So when should you get a mammogram?
Despite what the U.S. Preventive Task Force controversially recommends, the general consensus (as stated by health organizations such as the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society) is that all women should 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. Griska. Period.
To schedule your mammogram, call 215-481-EXAM (3926).