In a normal year, it can be difficult to prioritize your health. The pandemic has certainly added to the challenge, forcing many to delay mammograms and other important health screenings. Now is the time to get those back on your schedule.
The statistics on breast cancer haven’t changed much over the last decade or so – 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop an invasive form of the disease. So the next time you have a minute, think of seven women you know. Chances are one of you will have breast cancer at some point in your life.
While the death rates are coming down – thanks to better screenings and more advanced treatments – getting regular mammograms is still the best way to catch the disease when it's in the early stages and easier to treat. In addition, mammograms are no longer a one-size-fits-all screening tool. There are many options to ensure you have the test that is best for you.
"The only proven method of reducing breast cancer deaths is mammography," said Joshua D. Gross, MD, a board-certified radiologist and medical director of the Breast Center at Holy Name Medical Center. "A mammogram is quick, it's easy, and it can save your life."
More advanced mammography
Holy Name was one of the first in the region to offer 3D mammography to women who needed the more specialized screening, even when insurance companies weren’t always covering it. A 3D mammogram captures multiple images – think of slices – of the breast, creating a layered inspection that radiologists can review one thin slice at a time. It’s similar to turning the pages of a book and frequently doesn’t require additional compression or extra time.
“We can find a lot more with this test,” Dr. Gross said. “We’ve had women whose breast cancer couldn’t be detected with 2D mammography, but it showed up on the 3D images. This can really make a difference, especially for women who have dense breasts, because the background density can hide cancers.”
Another specialized screening is Contrast Enhanced Spectral Mammography, which is especially useful for women at higher risk for developing breast cancer. The patient receives an injection of iodine-based contrast – the same used for CT scans – and then mammography imaging is done. The images show areas that concentrate the contrast, which signals increased blood flow and can be associated with cancerous tumor development.
If your mammogram does find cancer, know that treatments have significantly evolved and improved in the last decade. Specifically, hormone therapy has helped prevent and treat the most common type of the disease.
Hormone-receptor positive breast cancers – meaning the cancer cells grow in response to estrogen and/or progesterone – represent 75 percent of all breast cancer cases. Hormone therapy, taken in pill form, is used to prevent and treat these types of breast cancers, sometimes in conjunction with other medications.
“Advances in hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, have given us good options to prevent breast cancer in women who are at high risk for developing the disease,” said Raimonda Goldman, DO a board-certified hematologist-oncologist at Holy Name. “The therapy is also used, in what is called adjuvant therapy, to prevent the recurrence of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers after patients have undergone surgery and radiation, if necessary.”
In addition, when the disease has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes into other parts of the body, hormone therapy combined with other medications called CDK4/6 inhibitors has become a first-line treatment. CDK4/6 inhibitors interrupt the growth of breast cancer cells and give patients more time before they must undergo chemotherapy. Together, the medications are used to prolong progression-free survival.
Today, millions of women are living healthy, fulfilling lives after surviving breast cancer. Many will tell you they owe their wellness to finding their cancer through a mammogram, which detected the disease before they ever felt a lump or had any symptoms.
Now is the time, ladies. Make your appointment. To ensure you are safe from COVID-19, Holy Name performs consistent cleaning protocols, adheres to social distancing in waiting and screening rooms, and requires all staff and patients to wear masks. The Breast Center at Holy Name is clean and ready to provide you with the best type of mammogram to fit your individual needs.