October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, amid the flurry of pink products and charity events, women 40 and older are reminded of the critical importance of screening mammograms.
“Screening mammography is essential for early detection of breast cancer,” said Dr. Maria Pace, chairman of radiology at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center. “Nearly 70 percent of women who are diagnosed have no known risk factors. Screening mammography, recommended annually starting at age 40 or younger if you are at high risk, is the best tool we have for early detection.”
What’s keeping you from your mammogram?
Pace said that fear of the unknown is a big factor in deterring women from having annual screening mammograms. “We try to create a warm, welcoming and caring environment to combat that fear,” she said. “It helps alleviate some of the fear of what can be a stressful situation.”
Pace also concedes that more American women are uninsured or underinsured than in the past, and screening mammograms are just another medical need that is going unmet in these hard economic times. “Many medical centers and local agencies have Susan G. Komen for the Cure grants to help provide screening mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women. I encourage women to seek out what’s available to them. Your health is too important to skip screening,” she said.
Conflicting media reports about the value and frequency of regular screening mammography also has led some women to skip getting screened, Pace said.
“All the big players – the American College of Radiology, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and others – still firmly believe what we’ve been recommending all along: screening for women 40 and older and possibly earlier for those at high risk, including a first-degree family history of the disease.” She also actively encourages all of her patients to practice self-exams routinely.
And if your biggest holdup is time, odds are a medical center near you has that worked out, too.
“Many locations have extended office hours, weekend or evening appointments and walk-ins available. We also have mobile mammography units that will come to you or a convenient area of your community,” Pace said. “Getting your mammogram couldn’t be easier or more convenient today. I encourage all women to make time for it. You can’t afford not to. It could save your life.”
Pace recommends being screened at an American College of Radiology (ACR)-accredited facility. “It’s important to know you are receiving consistent high-quality care and that everyone involved is well qualified and practicing with a caring attitude at every step.”