October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and being a woman over the age of 40, I know how important it is to get a yearly mammogram. I also know that technology has changed a bit, and I had some questions about this. So, I reached out to Jessica Martin, MD—a radiologist with Professional Radiology, Inc., who practices at The Christ Hospital—to get a few answers.
Age and Mammograms
I have heard over the years that you should get a yearly mammogram after the age of 40, but Dr. Martin says that some insurance companies will cover baseline screenings after the age of 35. But, personal risk factors also play into when you should start getting a mammogram—like family history. I (unfortunately) have a couple of friends who are battling breast cancer, and they cannot stress enough how important a yearly mammogram is.
What to Expect
I'll admit I was a bit nervous the first time I had a mammogram, but I'll tell you, it wasn't all that bad. Yeah, it's a tad uncomfortable, but mine was pretty quick. Be sure to speak up if you do experience pain. Let your technologist know. Dr. Martin also says, "You are more likely to be called back for additional imaging after your first mammogram since we've never seen what your breast tissue looks like. Everyone's tissue is different, which is why it is important to come yearly…so we can watch for changes." Waiting on the results can also be a bit nerve-wracking. At least it is for me. But according to Dr. Martin, at The Christ Hospital you will receive your results in your patient portal quickly, in most cases usually within one business day, unless they are waiting on prior additional breast images from another facility. If you don't have a patient portal, you can learn about how to get one here.
My mom has been called back because of something that was spotted on her mammogram. That is a scary call, but luckily, everything was fine for her. Dr. Martin explains what happens if you do get a call to come back for additional imaging. She says, "If we see changes in your breast tissue or anything that is concerning, we will call you back for additional imaging. This could be imaging still using mammography, but changing the angles or magnifying the tissue. We may also opt to use ultrasound for your additional images, depending on what we are seeing on the screening mammogram. If you are called back for additional imaging, you will get results before you leave and have the opportunity to speak to a radiologist regarding what they are seeing and any other testing that is recommended."
A Screening Mammogram vs. a Diagnostic Mammogram
This is where I really start to have questions. I have only gotten a screening mammogram, but I hear of different ones and always wondered if I should be getting this mammogram versus another. Dr. Martin explained, telling me that a screening mammogram is one you get yearly (like me) when you do not have any breast concerns. You do not need a physician's order as long as you meet the criteria like age, family history, etc. A diagnostic mammogram is one that your doctor would order for you if you have concerns. Like a lump in your breast, skin changes, nipple discharge or any new changes.
This is newer technology that I have been hearing a lot about. When you get a mammogram, you always want to be sure it is accurate. I will be honest, there are plenty of times when I worried to myself, "What if they missed something?" The Christ Hospital Network has switched exclusively to using 3D mammograms because they are more accurate in detecting early breast cancer, especially in dense breast tissue. We all know that early detection is key! But I wondered what the difference is, besides being more accurate. Dr. Martin told me that the process is pretty much the same as a 2D mammogram; however, the way it takes the images and how long it takes is different. She says, "Each position takes a few seconds longer to image when you get a 3D compared to a 2D. We may give you special breathing instructions that you haven't been given in the past because the 3D images are more sensitive to motion." More good news: Most insurance companies cover 3D mammograms, but it's always a good idea to call and check first.
I heard a story from a friend about how her breast cancer was spotted very early by having an MRI. This seemed to me possibly lifesaving. She started treatments immediately and is doing well now. I wondered when a woman should get a breast MRI. Dr. Martin says it depends on certain risk factors if you would qualify for one. If you have a strong family history, certain genetic mutations, or a personal history of breast cancer, you may want to talk to your provider about getting an MRI in addition to a mammogram.
As a woman, you cannot be reminded enough to "get the girls checked!" Early detection is key. I do lots of events where I meet breast cancer survivors, and that is what they all tell me. The Christ Hospital has the technology for that early detection, so schedule your mammogram today.