The guidelines are so confusing. Who should I believe?
You are right; they are extremely confusing! We strongly believe that every woman should have regular annual screening mammograms beginning at the age of 40. That's the recommendation of the American College of Radiology—and study after study, it's been proven that mammography saves lives! What's more, if a cancer is missed and allowed to grow for two or more years, that cancer may no longer be easily treatable. But it is a personal decision you may want to talk about with your primary care provider. Together, you can come up with a plan that takes into account your personal history, lifestyle, age and other risk factors—a plan for good breast health that works best for you.
Here's a great tool to assess your risk for breast cancer:
I had a mammogram last year. Why do I need another one?
Our hair turns gray, our skin becomes less elastic, our vision weakens—the outward signs of aging are obvious. Changes are happening inside our bodies as well; they are just not as apparent. An annual mammogram lets our radiologists see subtle changes inside the breast that come with the aging process, as well as early signs of breast disease.
What should I wear for my mammogram and bone density test?
For a mammogram, a two-piece outfit will make it easier for you to change into a gown from the waist up. Avoid using deodorant, body powder or lotion prior to the exam (we have deodorant packets). For your bone density exam, wear a two-piece outfit with no metal fasteners; sweatpants are fine. Do not take calcium tablets, multi-vitamins, Tums/Rolaids or calcium chews 24 hours before your bone density exam.
There is no wrong age to get breast cancer. Why? Our breasts are complicated structures that comprise lobules and ducts, along with supportive fatty and connective tissue that give breasts their size and shape. Breast cancer is also extremely complicated—there are more than a dozen major types, some that are related to genetics and can affect younger women.
What's important to remember is this: As we age, it's normal for our breasts to undergo changes. The radiologist is looking at your mammogram for signs that may not be just normal age-related changes, but could signal breast disease.
The bottom line? Age is only one factor that contributes to your risk of getting breast cancer. Many other factors—lifestyle, family history, breast density, genetics, pregnancy history, alcohol usage, obesity, for example—can increase the odds. So why take a chance? Women's Life Imaging Center follows the guidelines of the American College of Radiology, which recommends starting regular mammograms at the age of 40 and yearly thereafter. And remember, the earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances that treatment will be successful. In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the 5-year survival rate with early diagnosis is nearly 100%!
I have occasional breast pain. Should I be concerned?
Breast pain is very common and most women, at some point in their lives, experience breast pain or breast tenderness. In most cases the cause of breast pain is unclear; however, breast pain is almost never a sign of breast cancer. So what might be the cause? Here are a few reasons you may be experiencing breast pain:
Hormone alteration during menstrual cycle
Retaining water, which may occur during menstrual cycle
Hormone replacement therapy
Birth control pills/IUD/patches
Traumatic injury to the breast
RARELY breast cancer
As breast pain is not dangerous to your health, the treatment is at your discretion. If the breast pain is not affecting your lifestyle and it is something you can tolerate, then we would not recommend any action. However, if the discomfort is not tolerable, the following may be helpful:
Eliminate caffeine from your diet. Many women find that avoiding caffeine (coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, chocolate etc.) can eliminate or reduce breast pain and tenderness.
Wearing a support bra can be an easy and simple way to help relieve breast discomfort.
Certain pain relievers and vitamins may be another option. Always consult your doctor before trying any of these methods.
Benign breast conditions (also called benign breast disease) are noncancerous disorders that can affect the breast, such as cysts, fibroadenomas, small growths in the milk ducts that can cause discharge.
New research has suggested that breast density is a significant factor in determining a woman's risk for getting breast cancer. That's probably why you've heard a lot of talk about breast density. Here's the scoop.
Breast density compares the amount of fat to the amount of tissue in a breast as seen in a mammogram. Dense breasts contain more glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue. So what's the big deal? Mammograms of dense breasts are much harder to read than mammograms of fatty breast. The denser the breast, the more likely breast cancers are able to hide.
Is 3D™ better at evaluating women with dense breasts?
Absolutely! That's one of the key reasons we invested in 3D™ technology. Studies have shown that 3D MAMMOGRAPHY™ greatly increases the detection of breast cancer in women with dense breasts. But remember; because 3D™ is our standard of care, all women—whether they have dense or fatty breasts—are screened using 3D™ technology.
Breast calcifications are calcium deposits within the breast—they're tiny; they can't be felt, but on a mammogram, they look like white specs or flecks. Most calcifications are benign. But there are certain patterns that show up, like tight clusters with irregular shapes, which can indicate precancerous changes to the breast. There are two general types: macrocalcifications, which show up as large white dots or dashes (they are almost always benign); and microcalcifications, which look like grains of salt. These are the ones we need to watch carefully.
Keep in mind that products that contain radiopaque materials or metals, such as deodorants, creams or powders, may mimic calcifications. That's why it's so important not to wear these types of skin products prior to having your mammogram.
Your past mammograms—called "priors"—tell a story about your breasts. If you have had at least one mammogram in the past, that is your baseline. Our radiologists compare your baseline to subsequent mammograms, which enables them to monitor breast changes over time. For example, if there is an unusual area identified in your baseline, yet that same exact spot shows up in the same location next year, we know it's a normal part of your breast tissue—not a new potential cancerous growth.
I have no family history. Why do I need an annual mammogram?
Approximately 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer or other factors that put them at high risk for developing the disease. So screening only those high-risk women misses the majority of cancers.