We take a look at some common questions about breast cancer. If you have a question you'd like us to answer, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Are women at risk from the radiation in a mammogram?
A: The staff at TMC’s Breast Center, a grantee of Komen SAZ, uses this analogy: the radiation exposure for one mammogram is the same as the radiation an airline passenger is exposed to on a one-way trip from California to New York. In other words, it’s a very small amount indeed – especially when mammograms are typically only an annual event.
Karen Narum, nurse practitioner at TMC Women’s Health and Breast Center, believes that most of their female patients know that the health risks associated with radiation are minimal. She says it’s the women who are not getting mammograms who don’t fully understand it.
Deborah Friedman, radiologist at Arizona Women's Imaging and a board member at Komen SAZ, adds: "Women frequently express concerns about the radiation. While the radiation dose is low, it is a reasonable concern. The way to think about the issue, however, is by weighing the cost and benefits. In relationship to mammograms, mammography is currently still the best screening tool we have for breast cancer and the benefits outweigh the risk of the small dose of radiation."
Some other points to consider:
· This is an area that is highly regulated, says Jeanne Wilcoxson, a technologist at the TMC clinic. She believes the radiation exposure has improved with better mammogram equipment. “It’s got better and better, especially now we have digital equipment rather than film screen,” she says.
· All of us are exposed to background radiation constantly in the natural environment. X-rays and mammograms, flying in an airplane, and living near power plants increase that radiation even more.
· Other radiologists I spoke to about this stress that the benefits of mammography nearly always outweigh the harm a woman might get from radiation exposure. But talk to your healthcare provider about the need for any X-ray or medical scan, and avoid too many high-dose scans like CT scans.
· There is controversy surrounding younger women carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, since because of their history, these women tend to start getting mammos at a much earlier age.
Q: How does having breast implants affect my mammogram?
A: The answer is that having implants does change your mammogram experience significantly. It's all to do with where the implants are situated, say staff at TMC's Breast Center, which receives funding from Komen Southern Arizona. If they've been inserted below the chest muscle, or pectorals, technicians get a better view during the mammogram. If inserted above the pecs, which is more common, then the view of breast tissue is more obscured.
The imaging is done around the implants, as opposed to through them. That’s why the folks at TMC’s Breast Center – and others – take four views each of your breasts during a mammogram, as opposed to the regular two views (the cost of the screening remains the same).
Q: Is there a risk of the implant rupturing during amammogram?
A: TMC’s Breast Center and many other facilities performing mammograms will have you fill out a waiver against this happening, but the likelihoodis “very rare”, assures Karen Narum, nurse practitioner at TMC Women’s Health and Breast Center. Staff there say they’ve witnessed only one incidence of rupture in 25 years.
Q: Will the mammogram be more painful because of the implants?
A: “We don’t find that to be the case,” says Jeanne Wilcoxson, a technologist at the center. That’s because “we don’t compress the implant, we compress the tissue in front of it,” she says.
Q: Does breastfeeding really reduce the risk of breast cancer?
A: Studies show that it does. Women with a family history of breast cancer have been shown to be 59% less likely to develop breast cancer if they breastfed their children.
Why? During lactation you have fewer menstrual cycles, which reduces estrogen exposure – a common cause of breast cancer. Others have suggested that the changes breast cells undergo during breastfeeding may make them more resistant to cancer-related mutations.
Q: Does it matter how long I breastfeed for?
A: While some reports say the length of time a woman breastfeeds is irrelevant in terms of protection against breast cancer, other experts say the longer the better.
“Ideally it’s one year or more,” says Karen Narum, nurse practitioner at TMC’s Women’s Health and TMC’s Breast Center, which receives funding from Komen Southern Arizona. “A year gives the child increased immunity [to illness] and statistics show it decreases your risk for breast cancer.”