Breast cancer screenings save lives

MD Anderson Breast Clinic- Photo by F. Carter Smith
The busy breast cancer clinic in Mays, Tuesday October, 11, 2011. -Photo by F. Carter Smith

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches, it’s a good time for women to remember their annual mammograms.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 250,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2017, and more than 40,000 women will die from the disease.

The goal of regular breast cancer screening is to identify cancers at an early stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.

MD Anderson recommends most women have annual mammograms beginning at the age of 40. For certain women with a family history of disease, genetic mutations or other risk factors, recommendations may be different.

“Routine breast screenings save lives,” said Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center. “Studies have shown that regular mammograms can reduce deaths from breast cancer by nearly 30 percent.” After her 40th birthday, Stacey Fields realized it was time to have her first mammogram, but she was not excited about it.

“I’d heard from friends and family that they could be painful and scary, so I was hesitant and, “ had lots of questions,” said Stacey. “I worried about everything from hygiene to how I would react to the test results.”

After doing a bit of research and talking to her family, Stacey gathered the courage to make the call to MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the professional and calming nature of the patient access representative, and was able to make an appointment just a few days later,” said Stacey. “When I arrived at MD Anderson for my mammogram, everyone that day made the entire process feel relaxed, organized and professional.”

The mammogram was a bit uncomfortable, she admits, and the machine was cold, but the procedure was completed relatively quickly. Each mammogram image only takes about 10 seconds.

The following morning, Stacey received a call from the nurse practitioner indicating the mammogram revealed a suspicious area, and she was asked to return as soon as possible for further testing.

Upon learning she needed another mammogram and ultrasound, Stacey began to panic, imagining the worst possible outcomes. However, she soon got a bit of reassurance from a reliable source.  “My mother reminded me that regardless of what the tests reveal, I was in good hands at MD Anderson,” said Stacey.

The next morning, Stacey made a visit to MD Anderson’s Undiagnosed Breast Clinic for her follow-up appointment. In an anxiety-filled situation, she notes that MD Anderson’s staff worked hard to make her feel calmed and comforted.

“I felt as if they were focused solely on me. I was not just another patient, but I was important,” said Stacey. “They knew I was scared and had no idea what these tests would reveal. Their attention to me helped tremendously, and I hope that everyone getting screened has the same experience.”

Fortunately, the additional testing revealed that Stacey had nothing to worry about. She plans to continue having her annual mammograms at MD Anderson, and hopes to share a few lessons she’s learned along the way:

• Hygiene is important

“Deodorant and beauty creams are not recommended on the day of your mammogram, but your care team will appreciate it if you’ve had a shower recently. I like to shower in the mornings, so I tried to schedule early appointments. Two-piece outfits can also be helpful, so you only have to remove the top piece when it comes time for imaging.”

• Don’t panic if you need additional testing

“I’ve learned that getting that call for follow-up tests does not necessarily mean you have cancer, particularly if it’s your first mammogram. Those ‘suspicious’ results may only be suspicious because the doctors don’t have earlier images to make comparisons. The additional images they obtain in follow-up tests help them to better see areas that may have been unclear initially and need further examination.”

• A mammogram is the best 40th birthday gift you could give yourself.

“Mammograms are intended as preventive care, to hopefully find cancers early when treatment is more successful. MD Anderson discredited every mammogram myth I’d heard and helped me get past this major milestone in my life. I hope that everyone’s first cancer screening can be as comfortable and memorable.”

To request an appointment at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention center, visit www.mdanderson. org or call 877-632-6789.