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Ep. 17: This is how mammograms save lives

October 8, 2019

In modern healthcare, the focus is detecting problems early, when they can be treated more easily.  Since 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer, mammograms are a critical part of maintaining a long, healthy life.  3D mammography gives radiologists the ability to search breast tissue one millimeter at a time for any concern, and can give you a 15 month head-start on removing breast cancer before it grows and spreads. 

Every woman is encouraged to get a mammogram screening every year starting at age 40, or sooner if there are other risk factors.  A year can make a huge difference, and radiology technicians have seen women come back in 6 months with pain from aggressive breast cancer.  The process is quick and can be very comfortable using newer equipment.

Pam Jackson, who has performed mammogram screenings for 23 years, joins the Pulse to discuss how the mammogram machine works, what the current recommendations are, and how important it is for an annual screening.

Episode Summary

Mammograms are essentially an ultrasound of the breasts, used to detect breast cancer, in which a machine takes images from different angles and a breast imaging radiologist searches the images for concerns.  Most hospitals are moving towards 3D mammograms, though 2D is still widely available.  With 2D mammograms, the machine takes images that offer no depth; multiple layers of tissue have to be deciphered in the same image, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between dense tissue and cancer.  Quite often, women are asked to come back for additional imaging when using 2D mammography.  

3D mammograms, on the other hand, take images from multiple angles and various depths to see the tissue layer by layer.  Perry's machine, for example, takes an image every 1 mm so the radiologist can actually scroll the through the layers and more actually search for cancer.  Less call backs, less stress.  Best of it, 3D mammograms are proven to be able to detect breast cancer up to 15 months sooner than 2D technology.  15 months makes a huge difference in managing, treating, and recovering from breast cancer.

Why is it so important to get screened each year?  75% of people who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors.1  In other words, breast cancer is not solely genetic or based on external, controllable events; it can show up in anyone, at any time.  More over, breast cancer can sometimes happen quickly.  A lot can change in six months, let alone a year.  

When should the screenings start?  Different organizations offer different recommendations.  Overall, the idea is to start scheduling a mammogram every year around age 40.2  For anyone who has a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors, it is important to start earlier.  Additionally, as women age, it may become less necessary to have a yearly mammogram.  The best plan is to discuss it with your family care provider and make a plan.  


Pam Jackson, AART assists patients with mammograms in Perry's Radiology Department



What is 3D Mammography?

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Schedule your mammogram:  (815) 876-2050 or (815) 876-3313

1American Cancer Society: Breast Cancer Statistics

2Breast Cancer Screening for Women at Average Risk