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Mammogram screenings: When, why and which one?

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Self-breast exams, annual wellness visits and mammograms save lives and allow women to live healthier and longer. A woman's breast health is an important part of her overall well-being.

Beginning at age 20, your doctor or nurse should start doing clinical breast exams (CBEs).

Between age 40 and 50, an annual mammogram is the most effective way to detect breast disease and save lives through early treatment. Speak to your OB-GYN about when and which screening is best for you.

Mammography is essential to the detection and treatment of breast cancer, benign tumors and cysts. The screenings continue to improve.

The latest imaging tools offers less radiation, fewer retakes and a more accurate diagnosis. Breast density can affect screening results since this type of tissue makes it difficult to find lesions. Density is determined by age, hormones and the ratio of fatty to fibro-cystic tissue. This, along with a patient’s family history and personal health status, help determine the right screening at the right time.

There are two kinds of mammograms:

  • A screening mammogram is used to find cancer when it is too small to be felt and no symptoms are present.
  • A diagnostic mammogram is a more comprehensive exam. It’s used when a problem is found during the screening mammogram or if breast changes have occurred. These may include lumps, dimpling, nipple discharge or pain. Additional views of the breast help identify the reasons for the abnormalities.

The following are the latest in diagnostic mammography:

  • Conventional 2-D mammography is the common X-ray exam of the breast.
  • Tomosythesis/3-D mammography provides the ability to view the breast in 1 mm slices, while minimizing overlapping tissue. New versions also cut the radiation dose in half, and reduce callbacks by almost 40 percent.

The 3-D mammography is an FDA-approved advanced technology. It takes multiple images of dense breast tissue; thereby, minimizing the overlap. It provides us with the ability to view the inside of the breast layer by layer. That shows fine details and helps us catch breast cancer early.

Women will notice little difference between 3-D mammography and a digital screening. The digital screening takes a little longer — about four seconds per image. This allows the X-ray to sweep across the breast in an arch layer by layer.

UPMC Pinnacle offers 3-D digital mammography, which allows radiologists to zoom in on particular areas or change brightness or contrast for greater visibility and accuracy. It offers patients numerous benefits including:

  • less radiation exposure;
  • a reduced need for repeat exams;
  • and peace of mind knowing their results can be read immediately.

Are you prepared for your mammogram? Click here for eight tips to make your mammogram easier!

Kayla Kettering is the manager of imaging services at UPMC Pinnacle Lititz. She and her team are dedicated to providing an excellent imaging experience to their community, and early detection is an integral part of that. An imaging professional for 14 years, Kettering lives in Lancaster with her husband, daughter and puggle.

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