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Failing Grade: Why are fewer women getting regular screening mammograms?August 08, 2018

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The Numbers

The fact is that nearly one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time during their lives. And it is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S. after lung cancer. Shockingly, only about 67 percent of women above the age of 40 report having a mammogram within the last two years. And the annual lack of compliance rate is even lower at around 50%. As mammograms are capable of detecting signs of breast abnormalities before symptoms occur, it's imperative that women are screened regularly to reduce their risks. So, why are so many women choosing to forgo this vital procedure, and why are we allowing it to happen? A failing grade is unacceptable for our children in school, and it should be unacceptable for women’s breast health.

As CEO of Solis Mammography, it’s my personal mission to debunk the myths surrounding mammograms and bring up this unacceptable 50 percent annual compliance rate by making sure women have access to the highest quality mammograms, and the next generation is being educated about the importance of breast health.

I Don't Have Time to Get a Mammogram

People are busy. For some, balancing work and family life is a struggle, and finding the time to get a screening mammogram may seem almost impossible. However, the procedure itself only takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Solis offers several different locations in multiple states, including Texas (where the company is headquartered), Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

Getting a mammogram has never been easier or more convenient, and we at Solis are committed to increasing the percentage of at-risk women receiving mammograms – even if it’s not at one of our facilities. If you don’t live in these areas there are still plenty of great options to consider, and some clinics even offer walk-in options. Contact a representative at your local health department or hospital to get information about where you can get screened in your area. You should be able to fit a mammogram into your schedule.

Getting a Referral is Such a Hassle

While your doctor may provide you with information during your annual well-woman checkup about local centers for your mammogram, you have the right so choose any facility you wish. You do not need a referral from a physician for a 3D screening mammogram.

I'm Afraid a Mammogram Might Hurt

With the transition to digital mammography, and with new design developments for improved paddles and other equipment on the horizon, discomfort levels are being greatly reduced. All of Solis’ centers and partner hospitals are especially mindful when it comes to making patients comfortable during mammograms. Our compassionate mammographers are highly trained in compression and placement, using just enough compression to get the best images of your breast while keeping you as comfortable as possible.

For even less discomfort, it is suggested that you schedule your mammogram 10-14 days after you start your menstrual cycle when the breasts aren’t as tender and avoid caffeine before your exam as it can increase breast sensitivity.

What if They Find Something During a Screening?

Most people know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It's understandable that women might fear getting a mammogram because there is a chance of getting bad news. This anxiety is completely normal, but there are good reasons to put these worries aside and follow through with the procedure. First, not all abnormalities found during an exam indicate breast cancer. In fact, 8 out of 10 detected breast lumps are not cancerous. In most cases, further testing (such as a biopsy) is done and the tissue is found to be normal or benign.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, detecting it in the early stages is crucial. When found before the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.

Only Older Women Need Mammograms

Start screening at 40 years old. Solis agrees with The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guidelines that recommend annual screenings beginning at age 40. However, women with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors may need to be screened earlier. Women with family members diagnosed before age 40 are especially at risk. If you're considered to be at a higher risk, you can have genetic testing done to determine your actual risks for breast cancer.

We cannot stress enough that early detection can mean the difference between life and death, so it makes sense to take advantage of breast health screening so that you can live a long and healthy life. Your chances of recovery are much lower if this disease is diagnosed in the later stages. And for women with dense breasts, approximately 40% of the population, where risk factors are potentially higher, a 3D screening is recommended to be more effective and reduce callbacks.

Radiation from Mammograms Can Cause Cancer

Solis Mammography utilizes the latest breast health imaging technologies for 3D screening and diagnostic mammography. 3D digital mammography uses small, safe doses of radiation to perform mammograms that provide sharper, clearer images than ever before, making it easier to detect breast cancer even in very early stages. The chances of getting cancer from a mammogram screening are far smaller than the chances of missing early detection of breast cancer by avoiding these screenings.

Mammograms Are Too Expensive

Not having health insurance is a very real concern for many women, and without health insurance, medical costs can be prohibitively expensive. However, free or low-cost mammograms are frequently accessible through community or national programs, especially in the month of October, which is breast cancer awareness month. And if you have a financial hardship, Solis will work with you or help you find an alternate resource. We work with charities in all our markets and provide deeply discounted rates to those without insurance. Money should never be a reason not to get an annual mammogram.

While the Affordable Care Act mandates private insurance cover the full cost of a 2D screening mammogram, eight states: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, have passed laws to mandate that all insurers in these states cover 3D mammography as the minimum standard and ensure the procedure is covered by all insurers. In January 2015, Medicare and Medicaid mandated payment of 3D mammography and in 2018, all major insurance carriers are now covering 3D mammography.

The Advantages of 3D Digital Mammography Through Solis

A recent study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, “Tomosynthesis Impact on Breast Cancer Screening in Patients Younger Than 50 Years Old” sheds some light on the ever-evolving mammogram discussion. In an examination of nearly 60,000 screenings, the study found that 3D Digital Mammography notably increased cancer detection while decreasing callback rates for women younger than 50.

Providing the equivalent of 60 images of breast tissue divided into 1mm slices, 3D mammography allows the radiologist to see abnormalities and find masses that might otherwise remain hidden within dense breast tissue. This is compared to conventional 2D mammography, which offers the radiologist just four single views (two of each breast through compressed breast tissue).

From a patient’s point of view, there is no noticeable difference between a 2D exam and a 3D exam. The procedure takes roughly the same amount of time, compression and positioning. The only change a woman will see is that instead of the camera arm of the machine remaining stationary (as in a 2D mammogram) the arm will swing around the breast as it takes the multiple 3D images. 3D imaging is considered more effective and superior for women with dense breast tissue and reduces callbacks.

When Should Women Get a Mammogram?

The decision to have a mammogram is a personal one and is dependent upon age, family history, the density of breast tissue, and discussion with your physician. In terms of age, research clearly shows that annual mammography starting at age 40 is strongly correlated with significant improvement in survival rates of breast cancer. Annual screenings beginning at 40 are especially important for younger women (40-49 years old), because while breast cancer is less prevalent during this age range, if an incidence of breast cancer occurs, it tends to be more aggressive.

Not only that, but annual mammography provides most women with peace of mind about their breast health, since seven out of eight women’s results are clear. As such, we recommend that all women 40 and older make mammograms a part of their annual well-woman visit and exam.

The Solis Advantage

Solis Mammography is committed to providing our clients with the best experience possible, and that’s why we focus on accuracy, compassion and convenience. Accuracy is extremely important to properly interpreting your mammogram, which is why our breast radiologists are specially trained, receiving extra training on how to interpret breast tissue and tissue changes seen in mammography. Solis Mammography’s radiologists are experts in 3D screening and diagnostic mammograms, and all our radiologists are audited on their screening and interpretation skills annually.

With online, real time scheduling 24/7, in-center registration and emailed results as soon as they are available, usually within 48 hours, Solis Mammography provides you with peace of mind during your journey from appointment to screening to results. Our compassionate staff members understand that a mammogram is a highly personal exam. For this reason, we take extra care to make our patients feel comfortable and secure in our warm and welcoming environment.

Sources:

1. Breast Cancer Statistics, 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2018, from http://pressroom.cancer.org/BreastCancerStats2017
2. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2018, from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics