Amber Every, a registered mammographer at Central Peninsula Hospital, saw a yearly screening mammography save someone very close to her two years ago.
Every said her mother was getting her annual screening done when the X-ray images showed signs of microscopic calcification forming in her breast tissue. They were the very beginnings of breast cancer.
"My mom is the typical case that we're wanting to catch," said.
The early detection meant treatment was relatively simple, and Every reported her mother has been cancer-free since.
All too often, however, Every said women 40 years or older will choose not to have the annual screening.
It's hard to imagine not having the once-a-year diagnostic procedure that could save a life, but Every said mammograms have developed a stigma with which she is all to familiar. She hears about it almost every day.
Women are advised to have a screening mammogram conducted once a year starting at age 40. The procedure uses X-rays to view the soft tissue of the breast and look for abnormalities that could indicate the development of cancer. This is critical for effective treatment.
By the time the symptoms of breast cancer actually begin to show, the disease has likely begun to spread to other parts of the body.
Every said in her mother's case, the calcifications never would have been found without a screening until they'd grown significantly larger.
"They're like specs of dust," she said.
Mammograms have earned a bad reputation with some, though, because they compress the breast, a process which can be notoriously painful. While the compression allows the machine to take a better picture, some women find the process unpleasant.
Every said that while older technology earned the procedure a negative reputation, CPH is using newer equipment.
"The pain has subsided and it's not meant to be painful," she said.
Now patients are encouraged to let their mammographer know if the machine is compressing too much or getting hot, she said.
"The patient and the mammographer have to work together so that we get enough compression that we get an accurate picture, but not hurting the patient in the process," she said.
Pain isn't the only reason she's had patients tell her that they didn't want to get one.
"A lot of women don't get a screening for fear of what they could find out," she said.
That's perhaps the worst reason of all not to get one, Every said. While no one likes bad news, waiting only makes things worse.
"The chances of finding the cancer at an early stage is better with a yearly screening," she said. "So being fearful, and not getting one, turns out to be a lot tougher of a road to battle."
Another common misconception is that if women don't have any relatives with the disease, they're not genetically susceptible and not at risk.
"Genetics isn't everything," Every said. "If you're a woman and you're aging, that puts you at risk for getting breast cancer."
While breast cancer is believed to be hereditary for some women, it's not the only indicator.
Then there's the, "It won't happen to me," attitude. Every said she hears this frequently.
To tackle some of these concerns, Every organized a mammography party at CPH on Friday.
The event, which featured music, a chocolate fondue fountain, mock-tails and socialization, was meant to offer a more relaxed and supportive environment to get a screening mammogram.
Women who didn't have any symptoms of breast cancer could obtain a doctor's order from a physician and enjoy the festive atmosphere while they waited to do their test.
Every said results were to be mailed back to the patients later in the week.
It's an event Every said she's been trying to put together for several years.
"I really wanted to make this something fun," Every said. "To get people out and get a screening and be around other women so we can get rid of the stigma."
For those who might have missed the party, the central peninsula is well-equipped to provide early detection services, according to Dr. Jesse Kincaid, the primary radiologist at CPH.
"I think it's really fantastic -- the technology and the access," Kincaid said. "Especially given the size of the community and the rural area, it's really good."
Both Kincaid and Every stressed that screening mammograms are easy to come by. They're one of the few diagnostic-imaging procedures that don't require a patient to exhibit symptoms before the test can be ordered.
Kincaid said most women will get a doctor's order from their family physician, but if a person doesn't have a doctor they regularly see the hospital can arrange to get one.
Kincaid said the hospital uses the latest digital mammography technology. He explained that the same conveniences digital cameras offer in allowing users to snap, save and send photos apply to digital mammograms.
Now there's no wait time between the procedure and the processing of the X-ray film. If an image is blurred, the mammographer will know immediately.
Kincaid also spoke highly of the hospital having screening results sent to the Lower 48 where they're studied at a specialist center.
"Statistics show that mammograms are read most accurately when they're batch read in a dedicated mammography center," he said.
Since the images are stored as digital files they can be transferred over the Internet, cutting out the time it would take to have the hard copies sent through a courier.
Of course, detecting the cancer is only part of the battle.
Kincaid said the technology doesn't end at screening.
When cancers are detected, he said the hospital offers state-of-the-art diagnostic mammograms, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging to further study the cancer.
For more information on breast-cancer screening visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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