Early detection of the breast cancer can provide early treatment. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by L.A. Shively)

by Novant Health

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of it, Novant Health recommends that breast screening should begin at age 40, possibly earlier for those at high risk. Screening mammograms are the best way to help find breast cancer in its earliest stages when cure rates are highest.

“Breast cancer is more easily treated with better outcomes when it’s found at an earlier stage. Annual screening mammography has been shown to reduce deaths from breast cancer, and most lives are saved when screenings begin at age 40.” said Dr. Nicole Abinanti, director of women’s imaging for the  Novant Health Breast Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Detecting cancer early has other known benefits, including the possibility of less-expensive and less-invasive treatments, said Abinanti, of Mecklenburg Radiology Associates.

Understand the types of screenings

Mammograms have helped reduce deaths from breast cancer in the United States by nearly one-third since 1990, according to the American College of Radiology. The screening can reveal small tumors up to two years before a patient or her physician can detect them.

Individuals at normal risk of breast cancer should have their first mammogram by age 40 and then on a yearly basis.

“Individuals should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations and potential harms associated with breast cancer screening,” Abinanti said. “They should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to their health care provider right away.”

Talk to your doctor about your options

3-D mammography allows a patient’s breasts to be imaged from multiple angles. During a 3-D mammogram, an X-ray tube moves in an arc over the patient and takes multiple low-dose images that are regenerated by a computer. The angled images provide 1-millimeter-thin snapshots of the breast tissues that, collectively, provide radiologists a more detailed, three-dimensional view than standard two-dimensional mammograms.

“The examination itself is almost identical for patients,” Abinanti said. “It just takes about four seconds longer per view. We are able to better detect potential problems that may be hidden from sight by overlapping normal tissues.”

Individuals who would most greatly benefit from 3-D mammography are those with dense breasts and those who have an increased risk of breast cancer. However, Abinanti said that all individuals may benefit from a 3-D mammogram, as it has been shown to increase the cancer detection rate while decreasing callback rates and minimizing overdiagnosis.

Novant Health now also offers abbreviated breast MRI — a shorter version of a full breast MRI. The new, abbreviated version is for individuals who do not have a high risk for cancer, but who have dense breasts and want to screen beyond the mammogram.

“This is for individuals who want something in addition to the mammogram,” Abinanti said. “Recently, radiologists began reporting to patients the density level of their breast tissue and being able to offer the abbreviated breast MRI gives an added level of comfort to people with dense breasts.”

For more information and to schedule your mammogram visit bit.ly/2qnmPEM.