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The Scoop on Screening for Breast Cancer

Here’s the scoop: all women are at risk for breast cancer regardless of family history. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death (after lung cancer) among Alaskan women. More scoop: regular screening can often find breast cancer early when there are more treatments options available which will increase the chances of successful recovery.

Women primarily get screened for breast cancer in a couple of ways in the United States. The most common way is with standard digital, or 2D mammography which replaced the old-timey film mammography. With digital mammography, multiple x-rays are digitally recorded and put together to produce a two-dimensional image of the breast. Because they’re digital, radiologists and doctors can manipulate the images which enable them to see specific areas better and reduces the need for a repeat mammogram to get a better look.

The other type of mammography is newer and called digital breast tomosynthesis (tomo), more commonly referred to as 3D mammography. It was approved by the FDA in 2011 and is the latest breakthrough in early breast cancer detection for both regular screenings and diagnostic mammograms.

The procedure for both types of mammography is the same. The breast is positioned and compressed as with any mammogram a woman has had in the past. 3D mammography may take a few extra seconds to complete but requires no additional breast compression.

But who needs a mammogram and when? The American Cancer Society published some recommended breast cancer screening guidelines that apply to most women at average risk for breast cancer.

  • Women ages 40 to 44 can start annual breast cancer screening mammograms if they wish.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year.
  • Women 55 and older can change to having a mammogram every other year or continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live ten more years or longer.

Both 2D and 3D mammogram screenings are effective and can save your life.  Most insurance companies cover both types of mammography screenings, but it is always a good idea to make sure the newer 3D technology is covered identically by your insurer.

Several SEARHC clinic sites offer either 2D or 3D mammography. At the moment, 3D mammography is available at Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka, and SEARHC works with the Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska to offer 3D mammogram imaging in Haines, POW, Hoonah, Angoon, and Gustavus during mobile mammography clinics.