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October 16, 2012 > Early Breast Cancer Detection - Including Regular Mammograms - Saves Lives

Early Breast Cancer Detection - Including Regular Mammograms - Saves Lives

This year, according to estimates by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), nearly 227,000 women in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. That means, about every 2.3 minutes, a woman will learn she has this potentially life-threatening disease.

The good news is that death rates from breast cancer have declined over the last 20 years. The NCI reports that, today, more than 2.6 million women in this country live with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Most of them are now cancer-free, while others are receiving treatment.

"Early detection, along with timely treatment when breast cancer is diagnosed, is believed to be responsible for reducing the chances of dying from breast cancer," states the NCI on its Web site.

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - a good opportunity for women to remember the importance of regular, annual mammograms in helping to detect breast cancer at the earliest possible stage.

"Early detection of any cancer usually implies a better prognosis," said Mimi Lin, M.D., Director of Mammography on the Medical Staff at Washington Hospital in Fremont. "If breast cancer is found early, there are mores treatment options, including breast conserving surgery."

"Mammography is the only scientifically proven screening test for breast cancer," she continued. "It can find cancers as small as one-fourth inch to one-half inch, well before they can be felt."

The American College of Radiology, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons and other professional groups agree that regular, annual screening mammograms should begin at age 40. According to the NCI, several large, worldwide studies show mammograms reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer for women ages 40 to 74.

For women with a family history of breast cancer or other factors that put them at increased risk, it is generally believed they should begin screenings at age 35. At-risk women should can also talk with their doctor about when to begin having regular mammogram and how often. Having regular screening mammograms is important because, when breast cancer starts, it is too small to be felt and there are no symptoms.

"If you wait until it can be felt, the cancer is more advanced and difficult to treat," asserts Laura Constantine, R.N., clinical coordinator and nurse navigator at Washington Women's Center. "For the majority of women with breast cancer, the first indication came through their mammogram."

The American Cancer Society reports that for breast cancer detected at the earliest stage, or stage I, the five-year survival rate is 88 percent. If it is detected at a very advanced stage, or stage IV, the five-year survival rate is only 15 percent.

To achieve the most accurate interpretation of a woman's mammography images, it is important that the radiologist have prior mammograms for comparison. So, it is advisable for women to have their annual mammograms performed at the same imaging facility or bring copies of their prior studies to a new facility.

Today's advanced mammographic technology not only enables the radiologist to be more effective in identifying breast cancer early, it also makes it easier and more comfortable for the woman having the mammogram.

At Washington Women's Imaging Center, the mammographic equipment is digital, which produces images with superb resolution to give radiologists the greatest amount of information and detail. Digital imaging is also faster, so women spend less time in compression for the images, and the overall time needed to complete the examination is much shorter. In addition, the radiation dose is lower and fewer repeat images are needed.

Women who are concerned about radiation exposure from mammography should know that everyone is exposed to background radiation from natural sources equal to about 300 millirems (mrems) per year.

"Estimating risk related to radiation exposure is a complex issue," said Dr. Lin. "One way of looking at it is to consider the relative risk of one in a million chances of dying of activities common to our society, such as smoking 1.4 cigarettes, driving 40 miles in a car, or flying 2,500 mile in a jet. The risk from these activities is similar to the risk associated with 10 mrem of radiation exposure. A four-view mammogram typically exposes a patient to 80 mrem to 100 mrem."

The Washington Women's Center, located in the Washington West building next to Washington Hospital at 2500 Mowry Ave. in Fremont, combines screening mammography with advanced diagnostic services and an expert clinic staff. It offers women easy access to a high quality, comprehensive breast health program in a single setting. Services are provided in warm, soothing, spa-like surroundings with personal amenities designed to help women feel calm and comforted.

During October, the Center is offering a special "Think Pink" Massage at a discounted rate of $45. This includes a 50-minute massage of your choice - Swedish, therapeutic or deep tissue - and aromatherapy. Certificates are available for men and women. To schedule a massage, call (510) 608-1301.

"It's great to have a relaxing massage either before or after your screening mammogram," suggested Constantine.

To learn more about breast cancer and screening mammograms, go online to or For more information about Washington Women's Center, go to and look under Services.

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