COVID-19 has led to many unexpected changes in our day-to-day routines and even our long term planning. As you assess and reassess your upcoming calendar, it’s important that one thing doesn’t change: your annual mammogram appointment.
Screening mammography for women of average risk of breast cancer should begin at age 40, when the incidence of breast cancer increases substantially. Women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, when breast cancer is found early, the condition is more treatable and the fatality rate is cut in half. Yearly mammogram screening is key to early detection.
“A mammogram is a preventive care screening exam that uses low dose x-rays to create an image to check for early signs of breast cancer, in some cases up to 3 years before a cancer could be felt by the patient,” says Krista Osborne, St. Vincent Mammography Technologist.
According to St. Vincent Radiologist Kalie Adler, DO, a 3D or digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) mammogram is a low-dose x-ray taken in an arc as it moves over the breast. A computer then puts the images together into a series of thin slices and also reconstructs the 2D images without additional radiation.
“This allows doctors to see the breast tissues more clearly in three dimensions,” said Dr. Adler.
Dr. Adler stresses that screening mammograms and early detection save lives.
“Having a family history (first degree relatives) does increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Other risk factors include having dense breast tissue, personal history of cancer, lifestyle factors, being a woman and getting older,” explains Osborne, “However, some women think that having no family history or risk factors allow them to skip or not need a mammogram. This couldn't be farther from the truth. 85% of women with breast cancer have no family history.”
In addition to the patient’s physical well-being, their emotional and financial situation is also important to their overall health. St. Vincent offers various services to help meet the full spectrum of needs.
“Our breast center offers information and is available to help any woman with breast health information,” explains Dr. Adler, “We also have a program, the EVA Project, for any patient that has no insurance, to pay for their screening mammogram. We believe there should be no barriers for any patient to receive a screening.”
St. Vincent Healthcare is always committed to the safety of our patients and visitors, but the organization has instituted additional precautions and protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help patients feel more comfortable when coming to the breast center. A few of those safety measures include enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of exam rooms and common areas, and mask wearing is required of all patients, visitors and staff. At this time, the breast center is asking only for the patient to enter the office. The seating areas are set up to allow for social distancing at all times. The breast center team understands that going into surgery can be anxiety-provoking, so during times of diagnostic exams and surgery, each patient is allowed to bring one person with them to their procedure.
If you cannot make it into our St. Vincent Breast Center, we offer a mobile mammography imaging coach. The coach is able to reach patients within a 150-300 mile radius of Billings.
“This is very convenient for patients who cannot travel all the way to Billings or wouldn't typically have access to this type of care. The mobile is a quick and friendly option for all screening patients with identical technology to the breast center,” said Osborne.
In addition to mammography, the St. Vincent Breast Imaging Center of Excellence offers services such as
breast ultrasounds, breast core biopsies, and genetic risk assessments.
To schedule an appointment with St. Vincent, you can use MyChart scheduling or online scheduling on our website sclhealth/Mammography.org. You can also call at 406-237-4373.