Early Detection is Still the Best Way to Fight Breast Cancer
This year’s Sharsheret Benefit was a great tribute to the women (and the fabulous male speaker) who have faced cancer in battle – and survived. The support Sharsheret gives to women going through the difficult emotional and physical challenges of cancer treatment is priceless. I heard more than one woman talk about how much it meant to come home from the hospital to find Sharsheret’s Pillow of Support waiting to provide comfort. But I was even more heartened to hear Sharsheret encourage women to be vigilant in keeping their screening appointments. Early detection is still the best weapon in the war on cancer. But not all mammograms are created equal – and early detection often requires more than an annual mammogram.
We are all ready to bolt when the mammogram technician takes a few views and sends us on our way. But we do so at our peril. It is critical that more than the standard four views are taken and that they are read by a specialist in breast imaging who knows what to look for.
If you have been told you have dense breast tissue, additional testing is a must. In 2009, Connecticut passed a law that radiologists must tell patients when they have dense breast tissue and recommend an ultrasound. Here’s the reason: small tumors are visible as white spots on mammograms and can be obscured by dense tissue that also shows up white. On an ultrasound, the tissue images are gray so any area of white stands out. I know several women who had cancers diagnosed from an ultrasound that were hidden on mammograms. Additional tests such as MRI or molecular breast imaging are even more sensitive and can show tumors other tests miss. My patients hear me say that finding breast cancer is like a puzzle and each screening method helps put the pieces together.
So, when your radiologist recommends more than the standard views of an annual mammogram, and additional screening beyond your mammogram, don’t ignore the advice. We are not trying to make your life more difficult. We are trying to save it.