Taking the Fear Out of Breast Screenings
Mercy Fitzgerald specialists aim to reduce women’s anxieties during mammography
Darby, PA (August 27, 2013): A screening mammogram continues to be the most effective tool in detecting breast cancer before it can be felt. Yet, some women may still delay getting their annual mammogram because they worry about the possibility of hearing bad news. Current guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend that women begin yearly mammograms at age 40 even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer. Many health experts also encourage women to conduct self-breast exams on a monthly basis.
"Often women are afraid of what might be found on the mammogram, but it’s important to try not to be scared and to get screened,” says Caroline Ho, MD, radiologist and director of Women’s Imaging at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital. “The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better chance we have of treating it successfully.”
During a screening mammogram, two x-ray pictures are taken of each breast from different angles. One breast is compressed between two plates to flatten and spread the tissue apart. This allows for a good picture of the breast. Compression of the breast may cause temporary discomfort, but it should not hurt, and only lasts for a few seconds for each image of the breast. The x-ray image is taken and stored digitally in the computer. The test itself takes less than 10 minutes and results are available within 24 hours.
Dr. Ho explains that the Mercy Radiology team’s goal is for the entire process to be as patient-friendly and efficient as possible. “We do everything we can to make sure the patient is comfortable during the test, as well as try to eliminate any more anxiety by notifying them of the results soon after."
Drs. Ho, Manila Bagherzadeh-Azar and Dimple Shah are Fellowship-trained radiologists who specialize in women’s imaging at Mercy Fitzgerald and Mercy Philadelphia Hospitals. Together, they perform nearly 7,600 breast studies and breast procedures each year, including mammograms, breast ultrasounds, ultrasound guided breast biopsies, breast MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging studies), and stereotactic breast biopsies.
Earlier this summer, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital opened a new suite solely dedicated to Women’s Imaging procedures. The 1,100-square-foot suite is home to two state-of-the-art digital mammography machines and a new stereotactic breast biopsy unit.
“If a woman is called back for further tests after her screening, we have the capability and technology of doing all her work-up in one convenient location,” states Dr. Bagherzadeh-Azar. “Our Women’s Imaging Fellowship training provides us with comprehensive experience in interpreting the images and if needed, intervening with a biopsy procedure.”
Dr. Bagherzadeh-Azar continues, “What is also important is that we take the time to speak to every patient who has a question about a test result.”
Dr. Ho recalls how she has shown patients examples of what breast cancer can look like on radiology images, from the subtle to the most extreme. “High-quality imaging allows us to identify cancer even when it is smaller and at an earlier stage.”The most frequently asked question: what does breast cancer look like?
Another question that patients have asked the radiologists: do I have cancer?
Dr. Shah has usually encountered this question during a biopsy. “If I can say with a high level of certainty that the result will come back as cancer, I explain to them that it is a possibility. They are nervous, of course, but it helps reduce their anxiety when we can explain what’s going on in person.”
Screening mammography and other breast imaging procedures will be discussed at the next:The opportunity to interact with patients and further educate them on breast health was a main reason that Dr. Shah, the newest Women’s Imaging specialist at Mercy Fitzgerald and Mercy Philadelphia Hospitals, chose to concentrate on breast imaging.
“We can reiterate why self-breast exams and yearly mammogram screenings are so important,” says Dr. Shah. “That combination is a powerful, yet easy, thing that all women can do to take care of themselves.”