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Mammography Screening Saves Lives

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Mammography Screening Saves Lives

Cooper Clinic and the American Cancer Society recommend women begin having an annual mammogram at age 40. But what exactly is a mammogram, and why is this screening crucial for women? Cooper Clinic radiologist and breast imaging subspecialist R. Vance Dell, MD, explains how mammograms save lives and what information women should know about screening for breast cancer.

Screening Mammography vs. Random Mammography

A mammogram is a specialized x-ray of the breast that, with regular use, can detect cancers as small as two or three millimeters in size. Dr. Dell is quick to note that regular screening mammography is when a woman is screened annually at about the same time each year. This type of mammography is the most accurate, as opposed to random mammography, in which a woman may be screened once a year at different times, every two years or even more sporadically.

Screening mammography, when paired with ultrasound and MRI as needed, has a 92 percent accuracy rate. “Mammography is a primary screening tool and our first line of preventive medicine when it comes to breast health,” says Dr. Dell.

New Technology: 3D Mammography

Cooper Clinic recently added Hologic’s Genius 3D Mammography to its existing breast health and diagnostic imaging services. Genius 3D Mammography detects 41 percent more invasive breast cancers, detects 15 months earlier than others and reduces false positives by up to 40 percent. The machine performs a four-second scan of the breast and is a similar experience to the traditional 2D mammogram. “There’s not a better mammogram machine in the world than what we have at Cooper Clinic right now,” says Dr. Dell.

Different layers in the breast, including blood vessels, milk ducts, fat and ligaments, can be challenging to differentiate when viewed in 2D traditional mammogram. However, Genius 3D Mammography uses breast tomosynthesis, in which the scan examines the breast one layer at a time by taking multiple photos of each layer.

“Small cancers often missed by traditional 2D mammograms are found more often with 3D mammography, and the distinction between normal and abnormal breast tissue can be seen more clearly by the physician,” said Dr. Dell. “While traditional 2D mammography is comparable to looking at the cover of an unopened book and trying to determine what’s inside, 3D mammography is likened to actually opening the book and reading it page by page in full detail.”

Why Wait to be Screened?

Women who put off their mammograms or are inconsistent with their screening are often anxious about the process, faced with conflicting information about mammography and afraid of potentially receiving bad news. Additionally, the procedure can be uncomfortable, although the compression of the breast is necessary to get the best views and reduce radiation exposure.

Some women may also be deterred by fear of overexposure to radiation, but Dr. Dell dispels the myth. “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, levels of radiation in mammography were high, but today’s technology has dropped the levels significantly and mammography is very safe,” he says. “A woman who has an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 will be exposed to less radiation over her lifetime than if she had lived in Denver, CO for the same period of time, where the high elevation exposes residents to powerful sun rays.”

The more information a woman has about breast health and breast cancer, the more likely she will be to utilize screening mammography as a preventive measure. “Every woman who leaves Cooper Clinic after a mammogram will have an answer the same day,” explains Dr. Dell. “We will take additional views or an ultrasound if needed, and can order an MRI or biopsy if the situation calls for it.”

The Radiologist’s Role

Dr. Dell makes it his mission to educate women about their breast health in order to reduce anxiety and fear. He explains breast density and reviews mammogram results with his patients, and if there is a need for MRI or biopsy, he explains his suspicions and works to ease patient fears. “Finding a breast cancer is so far from a death sentence,” he says. “I have gone through the stages of anxiety and fear from breast cancer within my own family, so I understand how difficult the process can be.”

Women should not be afraid to ask questions of the radiologist or technologist performing the exam. Being comfortable with their expertise and trusting their knowledge can help make the procedure a bit more relaxing. Since mammogram screening quality was mandated by law in 1992, breast cancers have been found much earlier and mortality has dropped by 35 percent.

Although mammography does not have a 100 percent accuracy rate when it comes to detecting cancers, Dr. Dell is adamant that screening mammography saves lives. “Some cancers simply do not show up on mammograms,” he says. “This is why regular screening is crucial to prevention and early detection.”

For more information about breast imaging and mammography at Cooper Clinic, visit or call 972.560.2651.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.