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Radiation Oncologist Urges Women Age 40 and Older to Have Annual Mammograms and Breast Exams to Prevent Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society urges yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older.  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against routine screening for women ages 40 to 49 and instead recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74.

The varying recommendations can lead to a lot of confusion for women, but women should not let mixed messages about screening guidelines deter them from getting an annual mammogram, according to Alexis Harvey, M.D., radiation oncologist and medical director of the New Jersey region of 21st  Century Oncology, an affiliate of Lourdes Health System in the delivery of community-based cancer services.

“Mammograms can save lives,” says Dr. Harvey, who specializes in breast cancer treatment.   “The death rate from breast cancer has dropped significantly, thanks largely to mammograms.   Also, it’s important that women get their regular mammogram along with a clinical breast exam.   Together, these tests can help us to identify at-risk patients, which can lead to a greater range of prevention and treatment options.”

According to recent research, reasons why women do not participate in mammographic screening include confusion over what mammography can and cannot do, as well as confusion about how often a woman should be screened in accordance with their age.

“While a healthy woman with no symptoms may not feel she needs to get her screening as often, breast cancer may not be associated with symptoms until later in the disease process,” says Dr. Harvey.   “The short time it takes to get a mammogram can make all the difference.”

Dr. Harvey adds that for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, there are more treatment advances today than years ago. “Before 1980, women were treated mostly with mastectomies.   It’s a lot different now.   For example, brachytherapy is a radiation therapy technique in which radioactive seeds are implanted in a woman’s breast through a temporary installation device, which is left in for five to seven days.  This therapy does not affect as much non-diseased tissue or skin.”

Dr. Harvey also notes how digital mammography is now available.   While both traditional X-ray film and digital mammograms provide clear inside views of the breast, digital technology offers additional benefits, particularly for women younger than age 50 and/or those with dense breasts.   The benefits include:

  • No waiting:   Digital mammograms can be read right away on a computer monitor by a certified radiologist.   There’s no waiting for film to develop.   That means no chance for dust, dirt or scratches to mar the film. There’s also less chance it’ll need to be retaken.
  • Image Refinement:   The images can be refined during viewing. The radiologist can adjust brightness, contrast and clarity for the best image.
  • Storage:   Digital mammograms are stored on a computer.   They can be sent electronically to other experts if needed.

Dr. Harvey says the bottom line is for women to talk with their doctors about their risk factors to decide when to start getting mammograms or how often. “It’s also important for women to know that while a mammogram may be negative, mammograms fail to detect 10 percent to 20 percent of breast cancers.   A patient’s lump can be found in an exam but not on the mammogram.   That’s why the clinical breast exams are just as important to the screening process.”

Dr. Harvey will participate in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk on  Sunday, October 25, and will host an “Ask The Doctor” session at the Lourdes table. The event starts at  8 a.m.

Digital mammography is available at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County and Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.   To schedule a mammogram at either hospital, visit www.lourdesnet.org and click on “Request an Outpatient Testing Appointment” or call 1-888-LOURDES.

About 21st  Century Oncology

21st  Century Oncology is the largest global, physician led provider of Integrated Cancer Care services. The company offers a comprehensive range of cancer treatment services, focused on delivering academic quality, cost-effective patient care in personal and convenient settings. As of June 30, 2015, the company operated 183 treatment centers, including 148 centers located in 17 states and 35 centers located in seven countries in Latin America. The company holds market-leading positions in most of its domestic local markets and abroad.

About Lourdes Health System

Lourdes Health System is one of the region’s leading healthcare providers, recognized nationally for excellence in clinical care and service to the community. The system has two general acute care hospitals, located in Camden and Willingboro, New Jersey, and a network of outpatient facilities and physician practices located throughout Southern New Jersey, and LHS Health Network, an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) formed to provide coordinated, comprehensive care across physician practices, hospitals and other healthcare providers.

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