2011-06-16 / Healthy Living

Women over 40, hear this loud and clear: Get a yearly mammogram

M.D., Board Certified Diagnostic Radiologist and Medical Director of Jupiter Medical Center’s Margaret W. Niedland Breast Center

We hear it on medical TV shows. We read it in magazine articles. We get it from every physician, every nurse and nutritionist. The recipe for good health: “Eat right, exercise and have regular checkups.” We hear the message so often it’s easy to tune it out. We yield to the temptation of fried over broiled, the couch over the gym, and clearly there are a thousand reasons to postpone the checkups.

So, let me tell you something that may get through loud and clear. I’ll talk about my own area of medicine. We know that after the age of 40, a woman should have an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam. At the Margaret W. Niedland Breast Center at Jupiter Medical Center, there’s a breast cancer we see quite often. It’s called Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, or DCIS. When caught in the early stages, this pre-invasive cancer has a 95 percent to 100 percent cure rate.

Can there be any more compelling evidence of the importance of regular checkups? Or the importance of mammograms and breast exams? Left untreated, DCIS can lead to far more serious, and potentially fatal, breast cancers. But with treatment, there is virtually a 100 percent cure rate.

As the medical director of the Margaret W. Niedland Breast Center and a board certified diagnostic radiologist, it’s my job to find any anomaly, or suspicious area in breast tissue, which might require further investigation.

In our breast center, we analyze more than 5,000 digital mammograms a year. Analysis of a mammogram is a highly complex and sensitive task. A tissue abnormality can be so subtle that someone without in-depth experience could miss it. Sometimes it seems as subtle and evasive as finding a needle in a haystack — which is why we value not only education and experience, but also total commitment and dedication.

A screening mammogram is all most women need, and it only takes about 15 minutes. If additional evaluation is needed, our diagnostic phase can be a three-tiered process. The diagnostic mammogram allows us remarkable flexibility. For example, we can zoom in for a closer view of a suspicious area. An abnormality might well be caused by an overlapping shadow, or it could be a true distortion.

If we suspect the need for further investigation, usually the next level would be to do an ultrasound. This is a sophisticated imaging approach that uses high frequency sound waves to produce precise images. If the patient is at an increased risk for breast cancer, we may do an MRI. This is a highly sensitive test that will detect 99-plus percent of breast cancers. But with MRIs, it is also necessary to proceed with caution, as the acute sensitivity of the technology can also create false positives. Again, my point is that the diagnostic process has variables and requires experienced, sophisticated and highly trained physicians and technicians.

We have that superior quality of professionals at the Margaret W. Niedland Breast Center. We are a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence as designated by the American College of Radiology, and offer a real “one-stop shop” approach to women’s breast health. We have every modality, and maintain a close relationship with breast surgeons. We work closely with both oncologists and radiation oncologists. We stay in contact with our patients, from diagnosis all the way through treatment.

It’s important to first thoroughly familiarize ourselves with our patients’ histories. Our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment program offers a genetic counselor who explores our patients’ family history to perform a risk assessment.

Indicators of risk might include any relatives who were under the age of 50 when they were diagnosed with breast cancer, whether the patient has more than two relatives with breast cancer, and whether a previous biopsy showed atypical cells. There are also other genetic and environmental issues that might point toward a vulnerability to breast cancer. This risk assessment program is so important because it helps us map out strategies for testing, for diagnosis and for treatment.

There is much we can do: early detection leads to a cure. But our success is far more probable when the patient does her part: she picks up the phone and makes an appointment for a checkup. 

— Dr. Marzieh Thurber is a Board Certified Diagnostic Radiologist and Medical Director of Jupiter Medical Center’s Margaret W. Niedland Breast Center. The Niedland Breast Center is a comprehensive breast healthcare facility offering breast imaging, genetic testing and bone density testing. For more information, call 575- 2000. To make an appointment, call 263- 4414.

— A not-for-profit 283-bed community medical center consisting of 163 private acute care hospital beds and 120 long-term care beds, Jupiter Medical Center provides a broad range of services. For more information, call 263- 2234 or see jupitermed.com.

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