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Q: Why are mammograms so important?

Posted September 11, 2013 in Advice Column, Greene County

A: October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In addition to celebrating the survival (or mourning the loss) of women who have battled breast cancer, October also focuses on encouraging women to get a mammogram.  The mammogram is the best tool in detecting breast cancer early. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. On average, mammography can find a tumor two years before a manual breast exam.

A mammogram, however, is not the only tool in the detection of breast cancer. A combination of many exams can help women in the fight against breast cancer. Monthly self breast exams, a yearly breast exam done by one’s physician and a yearly mammogram are all important.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women younger than 40 do monthly breast exams and have a breast exam done by their physician every three years. Because the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, it is recommended that women older than 40 have yearly mammograms in addition to these other exams. While 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease, those women who do have an immediate family member diagnosed should begin mammograms earlier than 40 at the recommendation of their physician. Mammograms are not painful, but can be uncomfortable as they compress the breast during imaging  Digital breast imaging has made this process more comfortable. A small amount of discomfort can prove to be life-saving for many women.

Information provided by Greene County Medical Center, Jefferson, 515-386-2114.

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