Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
Breast Cancer Screenings
There is an entire world of testing that goes along with taking care of your breasts. Although medical tests can be nerve-wracking — especially when it comes to waiting for results — they are essential in keeping your breasts healthy and receiving proper care if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible.
Finding breast cancers early with mammography also increases the chances that more women being treated for breast cancer may keep their breasts. When caught early, localized cancers can be removed without resorting to breast removal (mastectomy).
Screening mammograms simply look for signs of cancer. These procedures are X-ray exams of the breasts done yearly in women who meet certain criteria and who have no breast symptoms or changes in their breast exam.
The goal of a screening mammogram is to detect breast cancer as early as possible – when it’s too small to be felt by a woman or her doctor. Detecting breast cancer early greatly improves the chance for successful treatment, and increases her treatment options. A screening mammogram usually takes two pictures of each breast.
When something is abnormal or difficult to determine, a woman may be referred for a diagnostic mammogram. For example, a woman with a breast problem, such as a lump, breast pain, nipple discharge or an abnormal area found on a routine screening mammogram could be referred for a diagnostic mammogram.
Diagnostic mammograms also benefit women who need short interval, follow-up exams because of a prior diagnostic exam. Also, women previously treated for breast cancer may get a diagnostic exam.
Three-dimensional, or 3-D, mammography is an FDA-approved advanced technology that takes multiple images, or X-rays, of breast tissue to recreate a three-dimensional picture of the breast. You may also hear it called breast tomosynthesis. It’s different from traditional mammography in that traditional mammography obtains just a single image. Images from both technologies are read on a computer. These multiple images of breast tissue slices give doctors a clearer image of breast masses, making it easier to detect breast cancer. Three-dimensional mammography is an approved VA medical health care service offered either on-site or through partnership in the community.
Some women wonder about the risks of radiation exposure due to mammography. Modern-day mammography only involves a tiny amount of radiation — even less than a standard chest X-ray.
Important things to know about mammograms
- They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25 to 30 percent or more. Women should begin having mammograms at age 40, or earlier, if they're at high-risk.
- Don't be afraid. Mammography is a fast procedure (about 20 minutes), and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram. To relieve the anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you results before you leave.
- Get the best quality you can. If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram. A digital mammogram is recorded onto a computer so that doctors can enlarge certain sections to look at them more closely.
"Mammography plays a critical part in diagnosing breast cancer. In the past, we'd often find that a woman had breast cancer when she came in with a lump. Today, the cancers radiologists find on mammography are usually detected early, before they can be felt by the patient, are smaller than cancers felt by patients, and have much lower levels of lymph node involvement." -- Susan Greenstein Orel, M.D.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, following lung cancer. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Reduce your risk and increase your chances by talking with your health care provider. For more information, contact your provider at Truman VA at (573) 814-6000. Truman VA is committed to the fight against breast cancer.
Veterans, visitors and staff are encouraged to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness by wearing PINK on Friday, October 19. Also, stop by the Truman VA lobby on October 19 from 8am to 4pm to visit the display of PINK PUMPKINS and the educational booth.