Don’t leave it at the bottom of the to do list.

Want to have a fighting chance at beating breast cancer? Find it early. Yet still, many women choose to skip their annual mammogram.

“As women, we find every reason to put off something we don’t enjoy. When it’s just a routine screening it’s very easy to say, ‘I’ll catch it next month. I’ll call them tomorrow. I’m really busy right now taking care of everybody else.’ We recommend every year at 40 – no excuses. It is so important to give yourself a best shot at a cure,” said Julie McCain, breast care manager at Crestwood Medical Center.

Beginning at age 40, the American College of Radiology and Society for Breast Imaging recommends women receive an annual mammogram, with a baseline screening performed sometime between ages 35 and 40. Those who are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer may be advised to begin annual screenings at an earlier age.

McCain emphasized that mammograms are meant to detect cancer, not prevent it.

“It is a diagnostic, problem-solving, getting ahead of the game kind of tool,” McCain said. “It is not a preventative tool. Mammograms help us find breast cancer when it’s curable. Every year at 40, we can’t stress it enough.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that some 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, in addition to 62,930 new cases of carcinoma in situ, the earliest form of breast cancer. Nearly 42,000 women are expected to die from the disease this year. While those numbers may seem bleak, from 1989 to 2016 death rates dropped 40%, which is partially attributed to breast cancer screenings.

“There have been so many studies that give credence to the screening program and the amount of lives that have been saved,” said Dr. Joel Lightner, radiologist and director of breast imaging at Crestwood. “With the changes in technology we’ve implemented, especially with the 3D mammograms, we’ve only enhanced that. We’re finding smaller cancers, cancers in dense breasted women who might have failed the classic or traditional 2D screening. Overall, we’re not calling back as many women who don’t have cancer, which is almost as equally important.”

A majority of mammograms done at Crestwood are 3D, as most insurance companies now cover the exam that provides a more comprehensive picture of the breast. For those patients who do not have coverage, the cost is $60.

In addition to annual screenings, McCain recommends women perform self-exams monthly. Don’t just check for lumps, but look at the appearance of the breast as well, which can be an indicator you may need to be seen.

“It’s hard when you feel like you’re not an expert, but that’s not the point,” McCain said. “We have patients who find their own, and it’s not necessarily always cancer. It’s that woman’s intuition – we are the first ones to know if we have a change. It may be that you go in to get it checked out and everything is great, but that’s OK too. It’s not a bad thing to have something be less or better than what you expected.”

Crestwood recently added breast MRI, an additional screening and diagnostic tool, which prevents patients from having to seek care elsewhere. The test is primarily used for those high-risk screening patients, who may have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic mutation, or as a diagnostic tool when cancer is found.

“What breast MRI allows us to do is get a better overview of the extent of the disease and how big the area is, and then any surprise areas we can rule out, particularly the contralateral breast,” Lightner said. “The last thing we want to do is send a patient through all this treatment, and leave an unknown cancer or something that needs to be investigated in the other breast. It helps them with their treatment decisions.”

To schedule a screening mammogram at either the Crestwood Women’s Center, 185 Chateau Dr. in Huntsville or the Crestwood Madison Outpatient Center, 20 Hughes Road in Madison, call 429-4888.

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