Written by SMH Copywriter Phil Lederer
Breast cancer is the deadliest form of cancer among women worldwide. In the United States:
- 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. *
- 325,000 women will be newly diagnosed this year with invasive breast cancer. *
- And 42,000 women — mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, friends — are expected to succumb to the disease this year. *
The good news? Breast cancer can be highly treatable — when it’s discovered early.
For women age 40 and older, getting an annual screening mammogram is the best way to catch the disease at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat, less aggressive and less likely to have spread. Early detection gives women a much better chance of surviving breast cancer, if it develops.
“Mammography is still the gold standard for detecting breast cancers, and we know it saves lives,” says Steven Merandi, MD, a diagnostic breast-imaging specialist at Sarasota Memorial.
Screening mammograms take about 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes once a year — 15 minutes that could save your life.
A Clear Picture
The science is clear: Yearly mammograms should be regular practice for all women over age 40 who are average risk, with no upper age limit.
The American College of Radiology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Society of Breast Imaging all agree on this, and all endorse annual screening mammograms as an effective way to detect breast cancers early — when they’re easier to combat — and to reduce breast cancer mortality by almost 15%.
The breast oncology team at Sarasota Memorial’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute recommends that women (even those with no symptoms or history/family history of breast cancer) have a screening mammogram once every year starting at age 40 and that they also have an annual clinical breast exam.
“We looked at all the recommendations and reviewed the literature, and it’s a no-brainer,” says Dr. Merandi.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to find conflicting guidance online about when and how often women should have screening mammograms.
One recent example, for instance, was a push for women ages 40 to 49 to receive mammograms only once every 2 years. This guidance, explains Dr. Merandi, is unsupported by the 50 years of scientific research that underpins the widely agreed upon recommendation for yearly screenings beginning at 40.
For some women, those 2 years between mammograms can be a serious problem.
The result is that we see breast cancers that are bigger than they would have been,” says Dr. Merandi. “We follow these interval cancers every year, because if we can catch them within that year, they have a limited time to grow.” And that typically means the patient will have a better prognosis and a lower chance of mortality, he says.
Screening recommendations may vary for women who have a history of breast cancer or an increased risk of developing the disease; those who are higher risk for breast cancer should talk with their gynecologist or primary care physician to develop a screening routine that’s best for them.
Dr. Steven Merandi, a diagnostic radiologist at Sarasota Memorial who specializes in breast imaging, separates mammogram fact from fiction.
Myth: Women don’t need yearly mammograms until age 50.
Fact: Women should begin receiving annual mammograms at age 40, according to the recommendations of most authoritative bodies on breast cancer.
Myth: Women no longer have to worry about breast cancer or get yearly mammograms once they begin or end menopause.
Fact: Experiencing menopause does not eliminate breast cancer risk. If a woman is age 40 or older, she should receive an annual mammogram.
Myth: Mammograms use radiation that can cause the cancer they are designed to detect, which makes mammograms a risk in and of themselves.
Fact: While all X-rays and radiology imaging involve radiation, it is all low-dose radiation. Any risk of it actually causing cancer is “infinitesimal,” “theoretical” and a “non-issue,” says Dr. Merandi.
“The statistics on that have always supported that the benefit of finding a cancer far outweighs the risk of a theoretical creation of a cancer. But we always take that into consideration and use the least amount of radiation, to minimize any risk.”
The Modern Mammogram
Thanks to advances in imaging technology, processes and design, modern mammograms are more accurate and more comfortable than those of yester-year.
If you’re due for a mammogram, talk to your gynecologist or primary care doctor about the various screening mammography options to find one that’s the best fit for you. Your doctor can order the screening for you, or if you don’t have a doctor, you can reach out to Sarasota Memorial’s HealthLine physician referral team (941-917-7777) for assistance.
One way that women can help ensure they're getting reliable mammography results is to go to a mammography center that has been awarded the American College of Radiology’s “Gold Standard” Breast Imaging Center of Excellence, as have Sarasota Memorial’s mammography centers. For information on screening locations and services in Sarasota County, call the Breast Health Center at 941-917-7322 or visit smh.com/breasthealth.
Women who are uninsured or cannot afford a mammogram, breast ultrasound, breast biopsy or other breast health service should call our Breast Health Grant Support Program for assistance: 941-917-7642. No woman should be without access to breast cancer screening or diagnostic services due to a lack of health insurance or inability to pay.
* According to the American Cancer Society.
As a Sarasota Memorial copywriter and wordsmith, Philip Lederer crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. He earned his master’s degree in public administration and political philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky.