"The only proven method of reducing breast cancer deaths is mammography," says Joshua D. Gross, M.D., a board-certified radiologist at Holy Name Medical Center, with extensive experience in mammography, breast sonography, and imaging-guided breast biopsy, including stereotactic and sonographic breast biopsy. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates have declined almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015. "The mammogram is the way to go in terms of saving lives," says Dr. Gross.
Despite this, many women still don't get mammograms. "They might say, 'Oh, I don't have breast cancer in my family, so I don't need to get screened,' but we can't ignore the fact that although most people (about 90 percent of the population) do not carry the breast cancer genes, 90 percent of breast cancer occurs in this general population," explains Dr. Gross.
Additionally, Dr. Gross says many women express concerns over the safety of this screening method because of the small amounts of radiation they may be exposed to during the test. But the benefits of mammography have been proven to outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. "If you live on Earth for six weeks, you are exposed to the same miniscule amount of background radiation as in a mammogram, so this is a big misconception," says Dr. Gross.
Another reason some women fail to get screening mammograms is they don't feel any symptoms, such as a breast lump. "If you sprain your ankle, you want an x-ray because you probably feel pain,” explains Dr. Gross. "With breast cancer, you may not feel any symptoms so the motivation to get screened is not always there.”
But here's some motivation to make that appointment: According to the American Cancer Society, in 2018 it is estimated that 266,120 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, 63,960 will be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer, and 40,000 will die from it. "Don't be one of these statistics; a mammogram is quick, it's easy, it can save your life," says Dr. Gross.
And there's more good news: The mammogram is no longer a one-size-fits-all screening tool for breast cancer. There are many options today. "At the Holy Name Breast Center, we offer the latest generation of screening with 3D imaging and diagnostic technology," says Dr. Gross.
3D Mammography is the standard screening performed at Holy Name. When this powerful technology was first introduced and was not yet covered by insurance, 3D mammography was offered here at no additional cost to patients. A 3D mammogram captures multiple images (slices) of the breast, creating a layered 3D breast inspection of the tissues to preclude overlapping tissue hiding a cancer. The radiologist can then review the breast one thin slice at a time, almost like turning the pages of a book. This screening is done at the same time as the 2D test, requiring no additional compression or extra time.
"We can find a lot more with this test; for example when we initiated an open screening program for our eligible employees, one woman had breast cancer that was detected only with the 3D mammogram but not the 2D," says Dr. Gross. "A 3D mammogram can really make a difference, especially for women who have dense breasts, because the background density can hide cancers."
Contrast Enhanced Spectral Mammography is especially useful for women at higher risk for developing breast cancer. CESM is similar to a breast MRI in accuracy, but faster and more comfortable. The patient receives an injection of iodine-based contrast (the same used for CT scans) and then routine mammogram imaging is done, at which time a special mammography unit takes two sequential exposures for each view. One exposure's image is similar to a standard mammogram. The other exposure reveals areas that absorb the contrast, which signals increased blood flow and can be associated with tumor development. "Where the blood flow is increased, this could be cancer," explains Dr. Gross.
"Live" Screening Mammography is offered at Holy Name and very few other hospitals. With a "live mammogram,” the patient has the option to wait and get the results of the test immediately instead of getting a letter in the mail. "This way, the woman can also speak to the radiologist about her results and the next course of action right away. If it's decided more mammography views are needed, the extra views can be done at the same time," says Dr. Gross.
Taking the first step to reducing your risk of breast cancer is easy at Holy Name where you will find the Breast Center to be a warm and beautiful space that focuses on patient care, safety, and privacy. For more information, or to make an appointment for a mammogram, please call 201-833-7100.