Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Screening Mammography An Essential Breast Health Tool


If you’re like most women, you worry about your annual mammogram from the time you leave your car until the day you receive the results letter. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) 2014, “Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.” The good news? ACS also reported that since about 1989, death rates have been declining and decreases in breast cancer have been seen in women younger than 50 as a result of earlier detection, increased awareness, and improved treatment.  

“Being alert to any changes in your breasts and having an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 are the best ways to detect cancer when it’s small and easiest to treat,” advises Christine Walsh, MD, breast imaging specialist at Genesis Imaging Centers and Genesis Centers for Breast Health. “Today, digital mammography, computer-aided detection technology, MRI and ultrasound greatly assists us in finding the smallest breast abnormalities — but even the finest technology is worthless if you don’t schedule an exam.” 

Kimberley Dippel, manager, Genesis Imaging Centers agrees.  “The key to helping women comply with annual mammography screening guide lines is to provide easy scheduling and overall convenience. If a woman has a mammography order signed by her physician, she can call us and usually be seen same-day. Because we know our patient’s time is valuable, the entire exam time takes only about 30 minutes; that includes the time it takes to walk from the parking lot, have the exam, and return to your car.” While mammograms are covered by insurance, Dippel recommends checking with your provider or insurance company to assure that it’s been at least one year since the date of your last mammogram; otherwise insurance may not cover the cost.

For women who are medically underserved, there are area-wide programs available that cover mammography and other health services. For more details refer to the contact information at the end of the article.

Diagnostic Testing
There are three levels of diagnostic testing: Mammography, Ultrasound and MRI.  If during a routine “screening” mammogram it’s determined that additional imaging is necessary or if a woman reports a lump or other breast abnormality, she could be referred for a diagnostic mammogram. If the mammogram confirms that further evaluation is needed to diagnose the type of cancer, a breast ultrasound (or “sonogram”) is ordered.

Breast ultrasound is painless and uses sound waves instead of radiation to visualize breast tissues inside the breast and the area closest to the chest wall that is difficult to capture on a mammogram. Ultrasound is valuable for two reasons.  It is the only way to distinguish between a non-cancerous mass filled with fluid (a cyst), or a solid mass that is cause for concern.

Sometimes a Breast MRI may be ordered. Breast MRI uses a powerful magnetic field instead of radiation to create highly detailed pictures of your breast tissue to help diagnose and plan your treatment.  It can further determine the nature of hard-to-assess abnormalities seen on a mammogram or ultrasound alone. MRI can also determine if an abnormality requires further investigation or may be left alone.

Your radiologist is your partner in health. Each year at your annual screening, he or she compares your previous mammogram with the current images to identify or follow any changes in your breast health. 

It’s reassuring to know you’re in good hands should you ever need the skilled eyes and expert hands of your radiologist as well as the dedicated interdisciplinary team of exceptional medical specialists and supportive technologists at the Center for Breast Health. For more information, contact KD Flick, Patient & Physician Liaison, Genesis Imaging Centers, at 563-421-5632 (direct).

Photo credit: CatLane/iStock