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Summa Health Answers Your Questions About Breast Cancer Screenings

Posted October 03, 2022 by Victoria Van Fossen, M.D.

Question mark filled with breast cancer symbols

Early detection of breast cancer matters. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is lower in advanced stages of the disease. Many times women wait until they experience symptoms, like a lump, before they get a mammogram or clinical breast exam. By then, the cancer may have spread and be more difficult to treat and cure.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in females. That’s why for decades, October and the color pink have gone hand in hand to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. While breast cancer can’t always be prevented, regular screenings and a healthy lifestyle have been shown to reduce an individual’s risk for breast cancer.

Early detection remains one of the most effective strategies for preventing deaths from breast cancer. In fact, medical experts estimate that screening mammograms save thousands of lives each year. It could save yours.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, start getting a clinical breast exam every one to three years from your primary care provider or gynecologist. If you are 40 or older, be sure to talk to your doctor about risk factors that determine how often you should have a screening mammogram. Females should start receiving annual mammograms no later than age 45.

Summa Health answers your questions about various breast cancer screenings and other ways you can reduce your risk. This month — and every month — think “pink” and take charge of your breast health with regular screenings.

Is a mammogram the best screening test?

A mammogram is the most important screening exam for early breast cancer detection. It can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early, before symptoms appear.

There are two types of mammograms: 2D and 3D mammograms.

A 3D mammogram allows physicians to examine breast tissue layer-by-layer, in multiple views and with fine details more visible, instead of viewing breast tissue using a conventional 2D flat image.

The 3D views or tomosynthesis help physicians better distinguish invasive cancers, especially in females with dense breast tissue. The result is earlier detection of breast cancer and fewer “call-backs” for false positive findings

3D mammography is approved by the FDA and multiple studies show that most females, regardless of breast type or density, benefit from 3D mammography versus 2D mammography alone. Summa Health has adopted 3D mammography for all mammograms and it is available at all of our imaging locations throughout Northeast Ohio.

Are there other screenings for people at higher risk for breast cancer?

Yes. For females at high risk, there are other screenings, in addition to a mammogram, that your provider may recommend, including:

  • Full Screening Breast MRI

    A screening breast MRI is a highly specialized test that uses strong magnets instead of radiation to take detailed images of the breasts to help radiologists view parts of the breast that may be hard to see with other imaging tests.

    A screening breast MRI typically takes between 45 minutes and 60 minutes to complete and is an outpatient procedure. A provider order and preauthorization through your insurance is required.

  • FAST Breast MRI

    FAST Breast MRI is a highly sensitive screening test that may detect abnormal breast findings not seen on your mammogram. It is a supplement, not a replacement to a yearly mammogram for gene negative patients with an elevated lifetime risk for breast cancer or individuals with increased breast density.

    It is a 15-minute procedure that does not involve any radiation exposure. A physician’s order is required for a FAST Breast MRI.

  • Breast Ultrasound

    Breast ultrasound uses sound waves and their echoes to make computer pictures of the inside of the breast.

    A breast ultrasound is not typically used as a routine screening test for breast cancer. However, a breast ultrasound can be useful for females with dense breast tissue or help provider better investigate abnormal findings identified on a mammogram or a palpable lump on examination.

  • Genetic Testing
  • Genetic testing may be recommended for patients who meet criteria to determine if they carry an abnormal gene that may increase the risk for breast, ovarian or other cancers. The two genes most commonly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer are BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two).

What’s the difference between a screening and diagnostic breast test?

A breast cancer screening is a test to find cancer before a patient has any symptoms. A diagnostic test, however, may be ordered based on symptoms or signs of a breast problem, such as a lump, nipple discharge or breast pain, or to follow up on an abnormal screening. A diagnostic test offers a more detailed view than a screening test and usually takes longer to perform.

Are there other ways I can lower my risk for breast cancer?

Yes. By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options possible, you can make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible. Risk factors you can control and modify include:

  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Remaining at a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet, reducing sugar, carbohydrates, red meats and processed foods
  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Being physically active
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Getting regular health screenings, including mammograms
  • Talking to your doctor about your individual breast cancer risk including your family history

There are many ways to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer or to catch it in its earliest stages when there are more options available for treatment. Don’t delay talking to your healthcare provider about reducing your risk. You can help in the fight against breast cancer.

To schedule a screening mammogram, call 234.312.5800.

Victoria L Van Fossen, MD

Victoria L Van Fossen, MD

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