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Annual Mammograms Still Important for Early Detection of Breast Cancer

by Richard Kuckelman, MD
The Breast Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center

I'd like to take the opportunity, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to reiterate not only my support for the American Medical Association's position supporting mammography as a breast cancer screening tool for women starting at age 40, but also to urge women to carefully consider the facilities they are considering for medical help in monitoring their breast health. Not all breast centers are created equal.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 40 and 59, but many don’t realize there are an estimated two and a half million breast cancer survivors alive in the United States today thanks to early detection. Breast cancers found early have a five-year survival rate of 96 percent.
When breast cancers are diagnosed early, particularly in younger patients, there are many more treatment options. While there is variability, many cancers move faster in younger patients. And while only two to four mammograms out of every one thousand result in a cancer diagnosis, women need to consider the risk of not taking advantage of a mammogram.
Even 40-plus women who aren't detecting anything when they do self-exams (which should start at age 20) or women whose doctor does not find anything suspicious during annual wellness exams, should get
annual mammograms.
Mammograms are still the gold standard in early identification of breast abnormalities in women in their 40s. A large Swedish study recently provided evidence that such screening mammograms resulted in 29 percent fewer breast cancer deaths.
And it's not just promoting the earlier push for mammograms that makes an establishment calling itself a breast center worthy of your confidence. Finding a breast center that utilizes a  multidisciplinary approach to breast health increases the likelihood that problems will be detected and enhances treatment for those who are diagnosed. All of our doctors, nurses, genetic counselors, technicians and patient navigators in the Breast Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center work as a team in one location. This is a rarity in the breast cancer treatment profession.
The Breast Center at St. Mary's has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (ACR). This prestigious designation means the Breast Center at St. Mary's has earned accreditation in mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy and breast ultrasound, including ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.
If you're 40 or older and your breast cancer risk is higher than average (family history etc.), you may want to talk to our genetic risk specialists in genetic risk assessment about more aggressive breast cancer screenings that make sense for you.
If you have concerns about mammograms, ask our Breast Center staff how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for you. We even take walk-ins Monday-Thursday, 8-11:30 a.m., and 1-4 p.m.
Early detection of breast cancer greatly increases survival rates. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year for women ages 40 and older. We'll even send you an annual reminder.
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