Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, part of an international health campaign that aims to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. As a comprehensive practice, Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association, PC is dedicated to caring for women in our community throughout every stage of her life. With as many as one in eight women receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, we believe that preventive care such as self-exams and regular mammograms are essential for early detection and successful treatment.

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer go on to live normal lives. This depends, however, on taking the necessary steps to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Unfortunately, many women will miss out on the chance for early detection by neglecting regular self-exams and mammograms.

Knowledge is power in the fight against breast cancer

In an effort to increase early detection, which can be life-saving, Breast Cancer Awareness Month promotes mammography as one of the most effective weapons in the fight against breast cancer. While it’s true that other factors such as regular exercise, a healthy and varied diet, and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, routine mammograms are generally regarded as the most effective method of early detection.

The technology around breast cancer continues to improve, allowing most women to take action at the first sign of any irregularities. The Mayo Clinic found that there was an almost 30% decrease in breast cancer deaths through yearly mammogram screenings alone, and the five-year breast cancer survival rate is around 98% with early detection. In fact, deaths from breast cancer have decreased by almost 40% since the 1980’s!

Knowledge truly is power in the fight against breast cancer. Many women delay preventive care like mammograms because they don’t know what to expect, and worry that it may be painful or uncomfortable. Since regular screening tests are the most reliable way to find breast cancer early, we’ve put together this guide to breast care to provide reliable, expert information that is easy to understand.

(Are you due for a mammogram or in need of cancer screening? Contact us today to schedule an appointment.)

What is breast cancer screening?

We use screening examinations to find evidence of disease before symptoms begin. The goal of cancer screening is to detect the disease at its earliest and most treatable stage, thereby reducing the total number of deaths. Screening may include labs that check the patient’s blood and other fluids, genetic tests that look for inherited genetic markers linked to disease, and imaging procedures like mammograms and ultrasounds. An individual’s needs for a specific screening test will typically be based on factors such as age, gender, and family history.

When screening for breast cancer, a woman who has no obvious signs or symptoms of the disease will undergo one or more of the following: 

Clinical breast exam – a doctor will provide a physical examination of the breasts

Mammography – these low-dose x-ray exams play a central part in the early detection of breast cancer because it can often show changes in the breast before a patient or physician are able to feel them. A mammogram may also find ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a collection of abnormal cells in the lining of a breast duct that may develop into invasive cancer.

MRI or ultrasound – an MRI may be used for women who are at a high risk for breast cancer due to a strong family history of the disease or genetic mutations. Women who have an enhanced risk of breast cancer but are unable to undergo an MRI examination, or women who are pregnant and should not be exposed to the x-rays used in mammography, may have an ultrasound of the breast instead. Ultrasounds can also be used to screen women who have dense breast tissue, as excessive ducts, glands, and fibrous tissue along with less fat make it harder to find cancer using traditional mammography methods.

What is mammography?

Mammography is a specialized type of medical imaging that is used to detect breast tumors before they become symptomatic. The low-dose X-rays allow us to examine the structures inside the breast tissue, identifying tumors or other irregularities. The advances in digital imaging and computer processing have given us new and improved capabilities in the mammography field, such as digital mammograms, computer-aided detection, and breast tomosynthesis.

Digital mammography is similar to traditional film-based X-ray mammography, but the film has been replaced with digital imaging sensors. These are more efficient and provide us with better images using lower doses of X-ray radiation. Digital mammograms are also easy to store and can be transmitted electronically.

Computer-aided detection (CAD) systems help us to “read between the lines” of digitized mammogram images, identifying any areas of abnormal density, mass, or calcification. These may indicate the presence of cancer, and because the CAD system highlights suspect areas, it decreases the chances of an irregularity being missed.

Breast tomosynthesis may also be referred to as 3D mammography. Multiple images are taken from several angles, then combined to create a three-dimensional image of the breast. Though the multiple images slightly increase the overall dosage of the X-rays, they still fall under safe guidelines, and the advantages are many! Detection rates are higher with fewer false-positive abnormal findings, and breast tomosynthesis can also provide:

  • greater accuracy in locating the size and shape of an irregularity
  • earlier detection of small cancers
  • fewer unwarranted biopsies
  • better performance when identifying multiple tumors
  • clearer images of tumors in dense breast tissue

What to expect during a mammography session

Successful mammogram images depend on compressing the breast in order to isolate the tissue. This is done using a special platform and a clear plastic paddle to even out breast tissue and stabilize it for images, making irregularities easier to find with a lower dose of radiation. Depending on the type of images being made, patients may be asked to move between exposures. For women with large breasts or breast implants, more images may be required. The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes, although the actual breast compression only lasts for a few seconds at a time. There may be some slight discomfort as the breasts are compressed, but we encourage patients to let the technologist know if the compression is painful.

Helping women in Memphis and the Mid-South live longer, healthier lives

Thanks to the early detection methods provided through routine cancer screenings, the incidence of breast cancer has been declining since 2000, with fewer women dying from the disease. Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association, PC is proud to support the kind of preventive care that can save the lives of women in Memphis and across the Mid-South. With offices located in Memphis, Germantown, Bartlett, and Southaven, we make it simple and convenient to schedule regular mammograms and any necessary screenings. Appointments can be made by calling our office or scheduling online through our website.