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October 14, 2009 > Mammography Day Highlights Importance of Early Detection

Mammography Day Highlights Importance of Early Detection

You may be aware that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) marks its 25th anniversary this October. But did you know that NBCAM's "younger sibling," National Mammography Day, will observe its 16th anniversary this year on Friday, October 16, 2009? First proclaimed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, National Mammography Day is intended to encourage women to schedule their annual mammogram, which is still the best screening test for early detection of breast cancer.

"Early detection is a critical factor in surviving breast cancer," says radiologist Dr. Mimi Lin, Director of Mammography at Washington Hospital. "The accuracy of today's mammograms is high, and we are able to detect tiny tumors long before they can be felt. At the Washington Women's Center, our digital mammography equipment provides a clearer picture of the breast than older analog mammography did, especially for women with dense breast tissue."

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast, using very low-dose radiation. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women have yearly mammography screenings beginning at age 40. Some women should be screened earlier, including those who:
* have a strong family history of breast cancer,
* experienced early onset of menstruation or late menopause,
* have never been pregnant, or
* had their first child after age 35.

"Women who have a sister or mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer should be screened when they are 10 years younger than the age of the relative at the time of her diagnosis," Dr. Lin says. "For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, you should start having annual screening mammography at age 35. Women with a strong family history may also be candidates for genetic screenings for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and for genetic counseling, which are also available at the Women's Center."

For women who have no specific symptoms, annual screening mammography involves taking two pictures of each breast. For women who have detected a lump, have discharge from the nipple or have other concerns specific to the breasts, a more comprehensive diagnostic mammography can be performed whenever needed. Diagnostic mammography often includes extra images, perhaps including magnification to examine the area of concern more closely. Women who have breast implants also may require additional images because the implants can block the view of breast tissue.

In addition to mammograms, the Women's Center offers breast ultrasounds if a suspicious area shows up on a mammogram or if the patient or her physician detects a lump. Ultrasound uses sound waves, rather than radiation. The sound waves will pass through fluid-filled nodules such as benign cysts, but will not pass through a solid mass that should be biopsied.

In some cases, a breast MRI may be used to provide images to aid the physician in diagnosing and planning treatment for breast cancer. Breast MRIs are performed by Alliance MRI at the Washington West Imaging Center adjacent to the Women's Center. An MRI uses radio frequency signals instead of radiation to provide computer-generated images of extremely thin segments of the breast, viewed from multiple directions.

"MRI of the breast is not a replacement for mammography or ultrasound imaging, but rather an additional tool for women who fall into a high-risk category for breast cancer," says Dr. Lin.

In addition to screenings for women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer, MRIs can be helpful in determining subsequent therapy for patients with a new diagnosis of breast cancer.

The Women's Center also performs image-guided core-needle biopsies of breast lesions, using either stereotactic mammography, ultrasound or MRI imaging. These procedures are done under local anesthesia and take approximately an hour.

"Because the Women's Center provides the full range of imaging services, we can expedite any necessary additional imaging if a patient's screening mammogram shows any areas of concern," Dr. Lin notes..." It is our goal to provide a complete work-up of a patient within a week. Which may include doing an image-guided biopsy Our 'nurse navigator,' Kathy Hesser, can help patients from start-to-finish in scheduling all additional imaging, biopsies and follow-up procedures after diagnosis.

For more information about mammograms and other imaging services or to schedule your annual mammography screening at the Washington Women's Center, call (510) 791-3410.

Don't Miss the Think Pink Health Fair!

In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Washington Women's Center is hosting "Think Pink: Breast Health and Cancer Awareness" on Thursday, October 15, from 5 to 8 p.m. under the white tent in the Washington West parking lot. During the free event, Washington Hospital medical staff and clinicians will present lectures on topics such as breast health, MRI screening, genetic testing for breast cancer and provide an overview of the Washington Women's Center Breast Health Program.

Several local nonprofits that provide support to breast cancer patients will join the Women's Center staff to answer questions and provide information on various services and resources. A special fashion show sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the Discovery Shop will conclude the evening. Participants are invited to come out and take part in lectures and prize drawings while learning more about breast health.

When/Time: Thursday, October 15, 5 to 8 p.m.
Location: 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West - White Tent in Parking Lot)
Cost: Free!

To learn more about the programs and services available through the Washington Women's Center, visit

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