With the increased buzz around breast ultrasound as the latest and greatest screening advancement, it may come as something of a surprise that mammograms remain the gold standard.
While every patient should be treated individually, “mammography remains the most dependable way to find breast cancer early, which makes it easier to treat,” according to Dr. Pamela Weber, Director of Breast Imaging at White Plains Hospital.
At White Plains Hospital, screening for all patients is conducted with 3-D mammography, which creates 3-D images from a series of X-rays of the inside of the breast. This method enables a more detailed analysis than the older, 2-D method still in use at some medical facilities. Using 3-D makes it easier to find breast tumors or other changes in the breast (such as cysts, calcium deposits, and abnormal lumps), Dr. Weber says.
For women with dense breasts — where the breasts have more glandular tissue and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue — even a 3-D mammogram may not be able to “see” enough to detect potential signs of developing cancer, such as fluid-filled cysts. In those cases, an ultrasound is usually ordered. Ultrasound technology uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. Those sound waves make echoes that form pictures of the tissues and organs on a computer screen.
While ultrasound is an impressive tool, Dr. Weber cautions that it is not for everybody. “Nationally, the entire healthcare system is being overwhelmed by an increased demand in requests for ultrasound, which is resulting in over-imaging everywhere,” she says. “Ultrasound is good for women with dense breasts, but we do not recommend it for all women.” A prevalence of false positives — where an indeterminate lesion is biopsied — is one of the downsides to ultrasounds. Such an outcome can lead to needlessly increased patient anxiety and additional imaging procedures, surgical biopsies, and associated costs.
To alleviate confusion around breast cancer prevention and screenings, Dr. Weber answers these commonly asked questions:
When should I begin getting mammograms?
Women should start getting mammograms when they turn 35; if the screening shows nothing, they can wait until they’re 40 to begin annual tests. “If a patient has a first-degree family member — a mom, sister, or grandmother — who had breast cancer, I recommend they start getting a mammogram 10 years before that person was diagnosed,” Dr. Weber explains. “So if your mom tested positive when she was 40, you should start getting screened at 30.”
Will my mammogram be covered by insurance?
The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurers to pay for one screening mammogram (conducted before patients experience symptoms of the disease) per year; those under 40 should check with their insurer to determine if they are covered.
Every woman’s imaging experience will be slightly different, but Dr. Weber reminds patients that “Early detection is key. The tools are available to help any woman through a breast cancer diagnosis.”
To schedule a breast cancer screening appointment, please visit wphospital.org/mammo or contact one of our three locations:
- Women’s Imaging at White Plains Center for Advanced Medicine & Surgery: 914.935.0011
- WP Imaging at New Rochelle: 914.336.5900
- WP Hospital Medical & Wellness at Armonk: 914.849.7979
For questions or help to schedule your appointment, you may also call 914.681.1260
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