If you're a woman 40 or older, you should be getting a mammogram every year, say officials at Aberdeen's two health care systems.
Breast cancer screening has been somewhat controversial: In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force stated that routine mammograms aren't necessary until women are 50 if they have an average risk of breast cancer.
Cancer Society, however, recommends annual mammograms for women starting at age 40. Both Avera St. Luke's Hospital and Sanford Clinic Aberdeen follow the cancer society's guidelines. Both offer digital mammography.
Avera St. Luke's recommends a baseline scan between ages 35 and 40 and annual mammograms after that, said Launa Feickert, mammography technologist at the Avera St. Luke's Imaging Center.
The Avera St. Luke's Imaging Center performs about 30 mammograms each day, Feickert said. The numbers seem to increase in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when more women are thinking about it, she said.
Mammograms also seem to increase in October at Sanford Clinic Aberdeen, said Angie Post, imaging department director. Sanford performs about 200 mammograms each month, said Dr. Joan Harriott, internal medicine specialist.
Harriott said everyone knows someone with breast cancer or has a family member with breast cancer, so prevention is very important.
In Brown County, 68 percent of eligible women go in for mammograms, Harriott said. The national average is 70 percent.
Being female and older than 50 are the greatest risk factors for breast cancer, Harriott said. Patients who have a strong family history are more likely to get breast cancer than the average population, she said. She said every woman needs to take a proactive role in finding out her family history on both sides.
Feickert said other risk factors include: having no children, carrying fat around the midsection, starting early menstruation and smoking. Breastfeeding decreases your chances, she said.
Symptoms to watch out for include dimpling of skin, pain, fullness or discharge, she said.
Feickert said having a family history increases the incidence of breast cancer somewhat and makes people more aware, but it shouldn't determine when someone gets a mammogram. Some patients have no family history of breast cancer but are still diagnosed.
"Someone always starts that family history," Feickert said.
Patients as young as 28 have been diagnosed at the Avera imaging center, she said.
Feickert said some women are scared about the pain involved with getting a mammogram, but the time spent in compression is really only 20 seconds total to get four images.
With almost all insurance companies covering mammograms and with South Dakota's All Women Count Program providing mammograms for those who can't afford them, Feickert said, there is really no reason not to get a mammogram. Feickert urges women not to be afraid to get a mammogram.
Take control and take charge of your health and do regular exams, she said.
Mammograms can show cancer in early stages before it can be felt, she said. If a woman is having them annually, radiologists can instantly see how the breast has changed, she said. For breast cancer patients, participating in support groups has been shown to increase life expectancy by 18 months, Harriott said.
Support groups can be found through the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen for the Cure, she said. Meditation using positive imagery can also be beneficial, she said.
Along with prevention and care, there is also the hope for a cure — and a new Sanford national program seeks to do just that.
Curing breast cancer is the long-range goal of the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Initiative, said Dr. Gene Hoyme, president, Sanford Research/USD, by email.
Hoyme said the initiative will involve developing the genetic tools necessary to tailor therapy to the genetic signature of each woman’s tumor; new and enlarged cancer treatment facilities in Sioux Falls and Fargo; and recruitment of new oncology physicians who will be actively involved with outreach to Sanford’s regional facilities, including the new Sanford Hospital in Aberdeen.
Hoyme said registering women to participate in the research programs is just beginning, but officials hope to eventually offer all women in the region the chance to participate if they so choose — that includes women with breast cancer, women with a family history of the disease or women with no cancer or history of cancer.
A facility called a bio bank will house serum, DNA and tumor specimens from women who participate in research, he said.
Hoyme said it's exciting to be part of a project that seeks to cure breast cancer.
"I am a clinical geneticist, and I believe the future of medicine involves a genomic approach," he said.