Have a mammogram question? Dr. Kari Thomas, a Legacy Breast Health Center radiologist specializing in mammography, answers the questions she hears the most.
There's no breast cancer in my family. Do I really need a mammogram?
Yes! Only about 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary. Most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of it.
How do I decide whether I should start at age 40 or 50?
This is a decision you should make after talking with your doctor about your personal situation. However, I advise women to start annual mammograms at age 40. That's because every day I see women who have been cured of breast cancer that was found early with a screening mammogram. I also witness the heartbreaking struggles of women with advanced cancer who would likely have been cured if only their tumors were found earlier. Almost one in five of Legacy's breast cancer patients are under 50. And while breast cancer is less common in younger women, it tends to be faster-growing.
Why can't I rely on self breast exams?
A mammogram can detect breast cancer long before it can be felt. The early and accurate diagnosis of breast cancer is key to survival - 99 percent of women survive if it is found in its earliest stages.
The radiation in a mammogram can't be good. It seems like it could even cause cancer.
The risk of breast cancer from screening radiation is less than one in one million, according to Harvard Medical School's Department of Radiology. But one in eight Northwest women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. So, the odds of a mammogram saving your life are far greater than causing any harm.
Is there more radiation in a 3-D mammogram?
In early fall (2014) Legacy will upgrade it's 3-D mammography equipment to reduce the radiation dose to the same level as a 2-D mammogram.
With a 3-D mammogram, you actually get a 2-D plus a 3-D mammogram. Adding the 3-D views does increase the radiation dose somewhat, but the total amount is still well below federal limits on radiation exposure. You will get less radiation from it than the amount an average person gets from the environment in one year. Put another way, the additional radiation from a 3-D mammogram is about the same that a person living in Denver gets in a year, as compared to living in Boston (which has naturally lower background radiation).
Women with very dense breasts or a history of being called back for additional tests might even get less total radiation. That's because the increased accuracy of a 3-D mammogram reduces the chances of a call-back and additional scans.
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