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Health and Wellness

Mammography best method to detect breast cancer

South Boston News
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Scheduling a simple screening mammogram is a good way for women to play an active role in their own health. With Halifax Regional’s digital mammography machine are mammography technicians, from left, Amy Powell, Judy Ivey and Angela Moser. For more information on breast cancer and screening mammography visit the health library at / October 16, 2013
Women, take note. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a perfect opportunity to do something nice for you. If you are over 40 and have never had a screening mammogram, make yourself a promise that this time, you will really do it. Mammography screening is the best available method to detect breast cancer early.

Although men do occasionally get breast cancer, the highest risk factor for the disease is being female. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women. In 2013, it is estimated that approximately 232,340 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. Of these cases, an estimated 39,620 will die from the disease.

With statistics like these, is it any wonder that a month of each year has been set aside to bring awareness of the disease? There is some good news, however. The number of women having mammograms has doubled since the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month observance began as a weeklong event in 1985. And, death rates from breast cancer have declined largely because of earlier detection and improved treatment.

These successes, NCI believes, are due to women being more aware and better educated about prevention methods such as mammograms, self-breast examinations and family history.

Some questions and answers about mammograms from the National Cancer Institute:

What is a screening mammogram? A screening mammogram is an x-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer. It usually involves two x-rays of each breast. Mammograms make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Mammograms can also find microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium in the breast) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

How are screening and diagnostic mammograms different? A diagnostic mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of breast cancer has been found. Signs of breast cancer may include pain, skin thickening, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape.

A diagnostic mammogram also may be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram, or to view breast tissue when it is difficult to obtain a screening mammogram because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants. A diagnostic mammogram takes longer than a screening mammogram because it involves more x-rays in order to obtain views of the breast from several angles. The technician may magnify a suspicious area to produce a detailed picture that can help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

When is it recommended that women have screening mammograms? Women age 40 and older should have mammograms every one to two years. Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer should talk with their health care providers about whether to have mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them.

What factors place a woman at increased risk of breast cancer? The risk of breast cancer increases gradually as a woman gets older. However, the risk of developing breast cancer is not the same for all women.

Research has shown that women who have had breast cancer are more likely to develop a second breast cancer. And a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, and/or daughter have a history of breast cancer (especially if they were diagnosed before age 50).

The American Cancer Society (ACA) recommends some additional steps that may help women reduce their risk for breast cancer. First, it is recommended that women maintain a healthy weight, especially in midlife and later. After menopause, most of the hormone estrogen in a woman’s body comes from fat cells.

Estrogen can spur the growth of many breast tumors, and being overweight or obese can raise breast cancer risk. Women may be especially vulnerable to breast cancer if extra pounds settle on their waist, rather than their hips and thighs.

Next, the ACA suggests that women avoid alcohol, exercise regularly for at least 45 to 60 minutes at least five days a week and carefully discuss with their healthcare provider the pros and cons of hormone therapy.

If you have questions about breast cancer, talk to your physician.

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