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Oregon Family Magazine

Better Breast Cancer Detection

09/29/2016 ● By Sandy Kauten
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and given that early detection is the number one tool to survival, we asked the physicians at Oregon Imaging Centers to help us debunk some common myths. What we learned might surprise you!

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I don’t need to get a mammogram.  At some point, this became part of the narrative about detection. It’s true that if you have a sister or mother who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your chances of having breast cancer increase. But of those who are detected with breast cancer, only one in eight women has a family history of it. The moral of the story: Don’t confuse the fortune of a cancer-free family history with a rubber stamp of safety. Get your mammogram and ask your doctor about self exams. (Some physicians believe they help, and some don’t. We are advocates – there’s nothing to lose by knowing your body and being aware of changes.) In addition, a fair number of breast lumps or changes in the breast are detected by patients before anyone else.

Women with dense breast tissue are more likely to have breast cancer. Yes and no. Women with dense tissue are more likely to have cancer discovered later, and therefore treated later– at least that was the case before 3D mammography. Here’s why: traditional 2D mammograms are not as effective at detecting breast cancer in women with dense breasts as with those with fattier tissue. Because of that, cancer has typically progressed farther by the time it is detected in a woman with dense tissue.  The good news is that 3D mammography does a much better job than 2D. Still, we sometimes recommend ultrasounds and MRI for women with dense tissue. Talk to your doctor for a recommendation. (If you don’t know about your tissue type, check the last letter you received with mammogram results. It’s now mandated to include this information in the report.)

The rate of breast cancer in Oregon is higher than in some other states. This is actually not a myth. Breast cancer rates vary by state, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon comes in at #25 out of 49 (Nevada does not report its statistics). There’s no simple or single answer to why this is the case. But it’s one more reason for you to be proactive about detection.

As long as I do self exams, I don’t need to get a mammogram. The value of self exams is under discussion right now. The American Cancer Society is no longer promoting them as key to detection, but we have detected hundreds of cases of breast cancer after a woman has felt a lump, so it seems worthwhile to us. In any case, a self exam should not be a replacement to, but instead, an addition to a mammogram. Catching breast cancer early allows for less invasive and more effective treatments. Early cancer cells are far too tiny to feel – even if your breasts are small.

Mammograms cause cancer because they can crush and spread cancer cells. There is not even a grain of truth in this theory. Mammograms don’t crush any cells.  This old myth is directly responsible for the delayed detection of thousands of cases of breast cancer. Help us debunk this one.

I need a referral from my doctor for a mammogram.  You do not need a referral for a screening mammogram but you do need to specify to which doctor we send your results. Incidentally, federal law requires your insurance provider to cover an annual screening mammogram, beginning at age 40. You are required to have a referral for what’s called a “diagnostic” mammogram, which is performed to take a second look or identify an anomaly. You should also check on your insurance coverage for diagnostic work, because it varies by carrier.