Written by Tammy Moore, DNP, Chief Clinical Officer
For many, the familiar pink ribbon that adorns posters and ads this time of the year is nothing but a gentle reminder of the presence of this disease in our community. However, for so many families in Grays Harbor County and Washington State, the pink ribbon represents the difficult and often life-changing journey that has taken place after a member of their family became informed of a breast mass.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A month dedicated to the opportunity to increase public awareness of a cancer that affects 170 women per 100,000 residents in Washington State. Grays Harbor County has seen a small decline in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer over the last five years and early detection remains a key contributor to overall survival of this devastating disease.
Mammograms remain the primary imaging test to look for breast cancer in women who have no symptoms as well as those who have noticed a mass, skin, nipple or other changes to the breast. Using low dose x-rays, mammograms allow radiologists to see the presence of abnormal breast tissue, not typically visible to the naked eye. Taking roughly 20 minutes from start-to-finish, a mammogram is typically reviewed by a radiologist before you leave your appointment so that any additional pictures can be done at the same time, if needed. If an abnormality is found on your mammogram, additional tests may be done. Diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and biopsies are commonly done with abnormal screening mammogram findings. These tests determine if there is presence of cancer that would require further treatment.
This year, we have performed more than 1,400 screening mammograms in our new state-of-the art 3D diagnostic imaging center. Recommendations for screening can vary. Generally, mammograms are recommended annually for women ages 45-54 and every two years in women ages 50 to 74 with no history of breast abnormalities. For women under the age of 50, SPMC recommends that that you discuss your individual risk factors and how often you should be screened with your primary care provider.
While most insurance plans cover mammography screening, there are programs that can assist with a percentage or the total cost of the screening. 3D mammograms provider greater accuracy of readings for women across the age span including those with dense breast tissue. This means fewer patients receiving call backs for additional images, less time to perform the test and a 41 percent increase in detection of invasive breast cancer.
While October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, our vigilance for this cancer continues year-round. I urge you to ask a female relative over the age of 40 if they should have this important preventative test and talk to your clinician about your own risk factors to determine when you should be screened.
SPMC accepts diagnostic imaging orders from any provider and sends the results directly to your primary care provider. For more information about SPMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Department, please visit SP-MC.org or call 260-346-2222.