Questions and answers about mammography

Breast cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed in women in America. This year, more than 220,000 women will learn for the first time that they have this disease and more than 40,000 women will lose their lives. However, when breast cancer is detected early and treated promptly, suffering and ultimately the loss of life can be significantly reduced.
Women are encouraged to ask their doctors and other health care providers about mammography screening. Mammography (an x-ray picture of the breast) is the single most effective method to detect breast changes that may be cancer, long before physical symptoms can be seen or felt. Early detection, followed by up-to-date treatment, provides women with better chances for long-term freedom from the disease. But mammography screening must be done routinely.
As women age, their risk of breast cancer increases. For most women, high-quality mammography screening should begin at the age of 40. As risk factors vary in everyone, the exact frequency of screening should be determined by each woman and her doctor. In addition to mammography, health care providers should also examine a woman’s breasts (clinical breast examination) as part of regular routine health care to search for any abnormalities that may be missed by mammography. And the practice of monthly breast self- examination will alert women to any breast changes that may signal the need for a visit to the doctor.

What are the benefits from mammography screening?
Mammography screening refers to the routine practice of breast evaluation by “x-ray” in women who have no apparent symptoms of breast cancer. Mammography screening seeks to detect breast cancer at early stages of development, resulting in more treatment options. Treatment of early stage breast cancer is not only more effective but potentially less disfiguring and toxic.

Is mammography reliable?
In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Mammography Quality Standards Act to ensure that mammography performed at more than 10,000 facilities throughout the country is of high quality and reliable. A certificate issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must be displayed prominently at each facility in order to lawfully perform mammography.  The mammography machine at Veterans Memorial Hospital is a state-of-the-art digital mammography machine which is also annually inspected by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Will Medicare pay for screening mammograms?
Medicare covers mammography screening every year for women age 65 and older. Yet, more than 60 percent of older women do not take advantage of Medicare-covered mammography screening. For more information on Medicare coverage,  call Sheryl Evanson, Pam Herman or Denise Wullner in Financial Services at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.

Mammograms can detect a lump in the breast as small as a pinhead that wouldn’t be detected by human hands for another two years. For additional information on mammography, call the Veterans Memorial Hospital Radiology Department at 563-568-3411.