The American Cancer Society reports approximately 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,410 new cases of carcinoma in situ (the earliest form of breast cancer) will be diagnosed in the United States 2017. Sadly, they also estimate breast cancer will claim 40,610 lives. This highlights the importance of early screening, as 1 in 37 people with breast cancer will not survive. Luckily, residents of Clark County have access to screening services at PeaceHealth. Radiologist, Dr. Michael Morich, answers questions about breast health.
PeaceHealth is a not-for-profit Catholic health system based in Vancouver. They maintain 10 medical centers throughout the Northwest, where they serve people in rural and urban communities. As Clark County’s largest health care provider, PeaceHealth serves as the primary source of care for the majority of vulnerable populations in this area. Because of their commitment to the community and quality of care, PeaceHealth maintains the most advanced treatment, using new methods and technology.
Breast cancer is the second most deadly cancer that women face; only lung cancer takes more lives. The earlier it is detected, the better the chance of survival becomes. Mammograms, a digital x-ray of the breast, are one such screening tool. “That’s the goal of the screening,” Morich states, “to detect cancers before they have spread beyond the breast so that they are better treated and the patient has better survival.”
When a patient receives a mammogram, the breast must be compressed. A technologist places each breast on a machine’s plate and an upper plate lowers to compress the breast. Though the entire exam can last 20 minutes, the compression only takes a few seconds. “There needs to be some compression when we take the image in order to spread out the tissue,” asserts Dr. Morich.
Yes, for some people this can be uncomfortable. However, as Dr. Morich points out, “If breast tissue is spread out more, you get a better image.” For most patients, the benefits outweigh the discomfort of the exam. At PeaceHealth, a MammoPad is used to help mitigate any pain. This is a foam pad that functions as a cushion between the mammography machine and the breast, making the scan more comfortable, softer, and warmer. Often, this is called soft touch technology, as well.
Dr. Morich stresses that mammograms are not a replacement for breast self-exams. “Usually,” Dr. Morich explains, “with a breast self-exam, cancers are often discovered when they are much larger. Cancers detected with mammography are usually not discovered with a self-exam.” A mammogram can detect cancerous lesions that are less than a centimeter, as well as carcinoma in situ, which a self-exam will not.
PeaceHealth recommends that patients speak with their doctor to find the most appropriate age to get a mammogram.
PeaceHealth uses 3D mammograms, which take the four conventional two-dimensional images associated with this screening as well as multiple slices that form 3D images. Dr. Morich explains overlapping glandular tissue can give the appearance of a problem in two-dimensional images, but a 3D image can help differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue. “And, we also detect subtle distortion in the tissue, which we might not normally see,” says Dr. Morich. “Often, the distortions we detect are caused by small cancers.”
Because 3D images provide more accurate information, PeaceHealth patients are recalled less frequently for additional screening than patients who receive conventional mammograms.
And, that’s not the only benefit of receiving a mammogram at PeaceHealth. Dr. Morich points out PeaceHealth’s continuity of care. “Sometimes when you have a mammogram, you will need additional imaging,” he says. “Those procedures are all done here. It’s disruptive when you go to one place and then you have to go have the biopsy done somewhere else.”
PeaceHealth patients also have access to My PeaceHealth, the online tool that offers access to medical records. Using this online tool, patients do not have to wait for screening results to arrive by mail.
To schedule a mammogram, ask for a referral from your primary care physician, or you can directly contact the Kearney Breast Center.