Breast cancer screening can save lives


For the Monroe Journal

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is the perfect time to discuss the importance of mammography. Because breast cancer is often detectable in its early stages when there’s a good chance for a cure, screening is essential to early detection. Most significantly, mammography can identify tumors even before they can be felt.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2012 (the most recent year numbers are available), 224,147 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 41,150 women died from the disease.

The American Cancer Society recommends women to have yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. If a woman is at high risk for developing breast cancer, her doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, along with additional imaging studies. Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have other tests or start testing at an earlier age.

Merit Health Gilmore Memorial invites the community to help “Paint the Town Pink” for breast cancer awareness month. Hospital officials encourage the community to put out pink bows, wreaths, pumpkins, flags, etc. as a reminder to get screened early. Gilmore, with a partnership with Amory Main Street, is placing pink bows downtown in awareness for the month of October and to help kick off the “Paint the Town Pink” initiative.

The Women’s Center at Merit Health Gilmore Memorial is the only hospital in Monroe County that provides breast cancer screening services. Gilmore has illuminated the hospital in pink lights during the month of October for breast cancer awareness. Bows and flags are planned for various areas of the hospital campus.

Screening and diagnostic mammography

A conventional screening mammogram is a low-dose X-ray test that creates images of breast tissue that doctors can check for lesions or other abnormalities. The X-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt and can find tiny deposits of calcium called microcalcifications that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

A mammogram used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease is called a diagnostic mammogram. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign or non-cancerous breast conditions.

Digital mammography

At the Women’s Center at Merit Health Gilmore Memorial, women who undergo routine mammograms also have up-to-date diagnostic technology available with digital mammography. The center will have extended hours for mammograms on Tuesday, Oct. 20, and Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 5-7 p.m. No appointment is needed for these special times, just bring your mammogram orders.

While digital imaging feels almost identical to conventional mammography, its benefits are a shorter exam time than traditional mammograms and there's less chance that patients will be called back for repeat exams.

Digital images tend to provide doctors with better visibility of the breast, chest wall and dense breast tissue. Through computer-aided technology, radiologists are able to enhance certain areas of the digital images to get a more precise picture of a patient’s condition. The digital images can also be stored electronically, and later retrieved to share with other doctors if needed in the future.

Through the Affordable Care Act, all Marketplace health plans and many other private plans must cover breast cancer mammography screenings every one to two years for women older than 40 without charging a co-payment or co-insurance. Women should contact their mammography facility or health insurance company for confirmation. In addition, Medicare pays for annual screening mammograms for all female Medicare beneficiaries age 40 or older.

Visit www.MeritHealthGilmore/ to learn more about breast screening options. For more information on various breast diseases and conditions, the anatomy of breasts, other screening tools and more, visit, choose the “Health Resources” tab and type “Breast Health” in the search box.

Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information to facilitate conversations with their physician. 

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