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LIVE HEALTHY HARTSVILLE: Beyond the mammogram

LIVE HEALTHY HARTSVILLE: Beyond the mammogram

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this is your gentle reminder, ladies, that it is time for your mammogram.

I am sure not everyone looks forward to the annual crushing of the breasts, but mammograms remain an excellent tool in early detection of breast cancer.

Beyond the mammogram there are several other tests that can be performed. A better understanding of all the tests and when or why they would be done can go a long way towards increasing your comfort level with these exams.

Screening mammograms typically start for women at the age of 40. There may be times when you have this done earlier. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 35 – she was the fifth in our family to be diagnosed. That was the first year I had a screening mammogram done. Yearly mammograms give the radiologist comparison films over time. This can be very helpful in identifying a slow growing tumor.

A screening mammogram is a standard set of pictures that is taken on everyone. There is no variation in the poses or angles from person to person. This gives us the first real view of the breast tissue. If this is negative, you should expect to come back in one year for a repeat. If it is positive, next up is a diagnostic mammogram.

This type of mammogram is a little more hands on. Pictures will be taken of the particular breast in question and viewed by the radiologist while you are still at your testing site. Additional pictures or different angles could be called for as they really try to hone in on what you may or may not have going on. After I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had genetic testing done, I now get this done yearly.

It should be noted that the call back rate for first time mammograms is generally a little bit higher, but this is because we don’t want to overlook something if the screening mammogram isn’t clear. Remember, just because you get a call back doesn’t mean there is anything wrong. It just means we want to look a little closer.

If your diagnostic mammogram is negative, you would follow the same follow up routine as the screening. If there is an abnormality, an ultrasound would be the next test. A positive ultrasound would result in possibly treatment based on findings (for instance you have an abscess that needs to be treated with antibiotics) or a biopsy. Follow up would be determined based on both findings and treatments. In other words, there is no set schedule. If it is negative, you would follow up in a year.

If the ultrasound doesn’t reveal the abnormality, you might then have what is called a stereotactic guided biopsy. This biopsy would be done guided by X-rays and a computer to analyze pictures of the breast and pinpoint where the needle needs to go to remove tissue for evaluation by a pathologist. Again, follow up here would be based on findings.

The final test that could be performed is a breast MRI. This is generally only used in cases of extreme high risk or when there is a need for additional diagnostic images after the other avenues have been explored. I have this done annually because of my high risk followed by a 6-month diagnostic mammogram.

On mammogram day, leave off your deodorant. Most deodorants contain aluminum, which can look like calcifications on a mammogram. It should also be noted that while screenings typically start at age 40, if there is any bloody nipple discharge or you feel lumps on self-exam at any time, you should discuss this with your doctor so it can be evaluated.

In South Carolina, there is a law titled “Hope’s Law.” This law is a breast density notification law. Having dense breast tissue is not abnormal, but it does sometimes make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram. When you receive your mammogram report, if you have dense breasts, you will also receive notice of this. This is just a tool for you to use to discuss with your doctor your risk and screening options.

At Carolina Pines, we have a great team willing to help walk you through the services we have available. Call our Imaging Department at 843-339-4790 to discuss your mammography needs.

Until next time … live healthy!

Kimberly Alton, RD, CSSD, LD, is the director of food and nutrition services at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center. As COVID numbers begin to climb again, I thought this might be a great time to revisit some information that we discussed early in the pandemic last year. As you know, there is a ton of information to be found on everything COVID-related. Unfortunately, it is not all accurate.


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