Breast Central: Your breast health resource

Welcome to Breast Central, where we strive to answer your questions about breast health, breast cancer screening and prevention. Lately, we've been hearing from women concerned about the radiation exposure from mammograms. In this video, Legacy radiologist Dr. Kari Thomas explains.

Legacy now offers reduced-radiation 3-D mammography! More cancer-finding power, without more radiation. Learn more.


  1. To screen or not: The controversy

    Confused about which mammogram recommendation to follow? It’s no wonder, with all the different studies and conflicting guidelines in the news. We see mammograms save lives every day, so we don’t want you to skip yours - at least not before knowing all the facts. 

    Download the infographic: Mammography saves lives - the numbersDownload the infographic

    NEW! Study showing the benefits of 3-D mammography

    Keep reading to learn more about the science behind our recommendation.


    Since mammography screening became widespread in the early 1990’s, the U.S. breast cancer death rate - unchanged for the previous 50 years - dropped well over 30 percent (according to the National Cancer Institute).

    What about that Canadian study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that says mammograms don’t make a difference?

    Many American mammography experts call this study deeply flawed and misleading. Read why.

    One thing that isn't disputed: The study is based on mammography screening done in the early ‘80s. Mammography technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years, finding more cancers than it used to.

    The BMJ has since published a newer study of modern mammography screening -- this one finds that screening reduces deaths from breast cancer by 28%. Read it here.

    Not convinced?

    There are many well-designed studies confirming that mammograms save lives:

  2. Our screening recommendation

    Dr. Nathalie Johnson, breast surgeon and medical director, Legacy Cancer Institute

    "The best way to beat breast cancer is to find it early. A mammogram is the gold standard for that."

    - Dr. Nathalie Johnson, breast surgeon and medical director, Legacy Cancer Institute

    Breast cancer is the number two killer of women, and one in eight women will get it during their lifetime. The good news is that if it’s caught early – before it spreads – 99 percent of women survive. Mammography is the key to early detection, because it finds tumors before they can be felt.

    Get a mammogram every year

    • The science says: Regular mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths by roughly one third in women age 40 and older, according to the largest and longest running breast cancer screening studies in history. Read the studies 
    • The science says: mammograms cut the risk of dying from breast cancer almost in half, according to a recent study. Read the study

    Start at age 40

    Nearly one in five Legacy breast cancer patients are under 50 - and Legacy has the biggest breast cancer program in the state. While breast cancer is less common in younger women, it also tends to be faster-growing.

    • The science says: Women in their 40s face a higher risk of death when cancers aren't found early. 
    • The science says: A recent study published in Cancer showed that more than 70 percent of women who died from breast cancer in their 40s at major Harvard teaching hospitals were among the 20 percent of women who were not being screened. The most rigorous scientific studies have shown that the most lives are saved by screening beginning at age 40.

    Others who agree with this recommendation

    Every major American medical organization with expertise in breast cancer recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40. These include:

    • American Cancer Society
    • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
    • American College of Radiology
    • National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC)
    • Society of Breast Imaging
  3. Mammogram Q and A

    Dr. Kari Thomas, Legacy Breast Health Center radiologist specializing in mammography

    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.

    There is no evidence of  radiation from screening mammograms causing breast cancer. But one in eight Northwest women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. The radiation dose from a mammogram is about the same as you get from the environment in seven weeks.

    Dr. Kari Thomas explains in this short video.

    Is there more radiation in a 3-D mammogram?

    Not at Legacy.

    We have upgraded our mammography machines to reduce the radiation dose. With our new 3-D technology, you get more cancer-finding power, without more radiation. The radiation dose is the same as a standard 2-D mammogram.  

    Find more information:

  4. I feel a lump

    Never ignore a lump. If you feel a lump or change of any kind, even if you’ve recently had a mammogram, get it checked. That said, a lump in your breast doesn’t always mean breast cancer. Keep reading for more information.

    If you feel a lump, don't panic. You might just have lumpy-feeling normal tissue, an infection or bruise. Many women have fibrocystic breast tissue, which feels lumpy. Talk with your doctor.

    For more information about breast lumps, download the brochure

    Fibrocystic changes are the most common cause of breast lumps in women ages 30 to 50. This may also be called fibrocystic disease, cystic disease, chronic cystic mastitis, or mammary dysplasia. This is not cancer.

    For more information about fibrocystic breasts, download the brochure.

  5. Breast density: Does it matter?

    About dense breasts infographic

    About 10 percent of women have “extremely dense” breast tissue. Having this type of tissue can increase the risk of breast cancer because it can hide small tumors.

    Download the infographic here.

    Most women have one of the other three types of breast tissue. If you get your mammogram at Legacy, we will tell you which of the four types you have.

    For information about the different types, read more here.

    Read an article about how 3-D mammography is best for women with dense breast tissue. 

     

  6. Reducing your cancer risk

    What's Getting Into You? event April 2013

    Only ten percent of breast cancers are hereditary, or caused by our genes. That points to something in our environment as the cause.

    It appears that just living in America increases our risk for breast cancer - women who move here from countries with low breast cancer risk increase their risk by 80 percent.

    While much remains unknown, research does link chemicals in our environment, food and cosmetics to breast cancer.

    The top culprits:

    • Pesticides in our fruit and vegetables. Choose organic, at least for the “dirty dozen”. Download the list.
    • Growth hormones in meat and dairy. Choose organic if you can.
    • BPA, found in plastic containers and microwave dishes
    • Parabens, found in cosmetics and personal care products

    More information:

    • Download the full list of risk-reducing lifestyle tips here.
    • Read more and find videos and additional resources here.