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New advances being made in breast cancer detection

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Note: This was originally posted on: 04/30/2009

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death in women in the United States. The chance of a woman being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about one in eight. About 40,000 women die from the disease each year.

There is some good news — breast cancer rates are going down. The most likely result of that is increased awareness, catching the cancer early and improved treatment. The best chance of beating breast cancer is if it is diagnosed early, before it has spread to other organs. And the best way to diagnose breast cancer early is with mammography.

It is a myth that women with no history of breast cancer do not need to get a mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women start having annual screening mammograms starting at age 40 and should continue to have them as long as they are in good health. Younger women should have mammograms if they have noticed a recent change in their breast and their physician feels a mammogram is recommended.

A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast using dedicated X-ray equipment. Dedicated mammography equipment became available in 1969 and has continued to evolve. Currently the most accurate form of mammography is digital mammography (also known as Full-Field Digital Mammography). Portage Health now offers digital mammography for all of its mammogram patients.

Digital mammography is the most accurate method of detection for early breast cancers and has the lowest radiation dose over other forms of mammography. Portage Health's digital mammography equipment is also faster than other forms of mammography. The decreased exam time means less discomfort for the patient. The new mammography machine at Portage also uses flexible paddles which are more comfortable than those used previously.

Digital mammography offers more flexibility for the radiologist. A radiologist is a physician specially trained in the interpretation of mammograms, X-rays, ultrasounds, Cat scans, MRI and nuclear medicine. With digital, we can manipulate the images similarly to the way pictures are manipulated on a digital camera. We use very high resolution monitors (about five times the resolution of an HDTV) and dedicated viewing software for interpreting mammograms. This ability to manipulate the images makes it easier for the radiologist to detect subtle changes in breast tissue that can indicate breast cancer. This manipulation also makes it easier for the radiologist to diagnose abnormalities in women with very dense breasts.

If you are a woman over 40, have a family history of breast cancer or have noticed a change in your breast, please talk to your family physician today about scheduling a mammogram, or visit  

Note: This was originally posted on: 04/30/2009

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