October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so it is a good time to be reminded that breast cancer is the most common cancer women will face in their lifetimes (except for skin cancer). Although it is the most common cancer in women, it can actually have an excellent prognosis, especially when detected early. In fact, early detection is the single most important variable in determining the outcome.
Some of the risk factors associated with developing breast cancer include:
- Family history of breast cancer or other related cancers such as ovarian (especially patients with the BRCA gene)
- Early onset of menstruation, late onset menopause (after 55)
- Mammographically dense breast tissue
- Post-menopausal hormone replacement
- The increased risk associated with aging itself
- Additional factors that can also contribute include:
- A sedentary lifestyle
For example, a breast cancer that is less than 1cm in size at the time of diagnosis with no involvement of lymph nodes has a 100 percent 5-year survival rate and continues to have excellent prognosis at 10 years and beyond.
The survival rates slowly decline if the cancer is detected at sizes greater than 1cm and larger. So it makes sense that the earlier breast cancer can be detected, the better the outcome.
Mammography has been the gold standard in breast cancer screening for many years and the technology continues to evolve. Lompoc Valley Medical Center is staying on the cutting edge of mammographic advancements, and the hospital now uses the latest technology known as breast tomosynthesis, also known as digital breast tomography (DBT) and 3D mammography.
For the patient, the experience of having a scan on breast tomosynthesis machine will seem similar to a normal mammogram.
But for a radiologist, the advanced technology is significantly better. With the digital breast tomography, the mammogram images are divided into 1mm thick slices that can be viewed individually. This allows the Radiologist to see through dense breast tissue with more clarity, resulting in improved detection of cancers, even when very small.
Using low-dose, short X-ray sweeps around a compressed breast with only nine exposures, the FDA-approved technology uses a special method that removes motion from the imaging tube, helping to reduce blur and increase image sharpness.
This imaging technique is designed to separate the tissues and to reduce the overlapping of structures.
The technology is especially useful in women with moderate or dense breast tissue on mammography. Dense breast tissue can obscure cancers on a routine mammogram. Digital breast tomography improves cancer detection by helping to separate overlapping regions of the denser breast tissue.
Another benefit of this new technology at LVMC is the ability to reduce the number of callback or “second look” diagnostic mammograms which can be stressful for patients. The reduction in call-back mammograms is again related to the 3D Mammography’s ability to see through dense breast tissue, allowing the Radiologist to better differentiate between normal overlapping breast tissue versus an actual abnormality that might need to be further evaluation.
LVMC also provides breast ultrasound and MRI which are sometimes used in conjunction with mammography depending on the need.
Remember: Early detection is important and LVMC provides the most up-to-date technology to help detect breast cancer as early as possible.