The importance of getting regular mammograms

Published 5:22 pm Friday, October 20, 2017

With the busy Christmas season approaching, Penny Cochran thought last December about postponing her regular mammogram at St. Luke’s Hospital especially since she had no family history of breast cancer.

But something in her told her to keep her appointment for her mammogram on Dec. 5. Two weeks later, Cochran, who has worked at Polk County EMS for nearly three decades, received a call to come back to the hospital for additional testing. The Boiling Springs resident had gotten a similar call the year before so she didn’t think it was cause for much concern. A diagnostic mammogram then led to an ultrasound and ultimately a biopsy.

“I was floored,” she said. “It came back as cancerous.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Cochran was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Within two weeks of it first being spotted on her mammogram, Cochran’s tumor had nearly doubled in size.

Today, after five months of chemotherapy, multiple rounds of different therapeutic drugs, surgery and radiation treatment, Cochran thankfully is cancer-free.

“If I can stress anything, it’s the importance of getting regular mammograms,” said Cochran, who is now 48. “I know with my cancer that within two weeks, mine nearly doubled in size. If I had waited another month, how big would it have been? And with triple negative breast cancer, I was lucky it was diagnosed at Stage 1. Everything fell into place.”

Prevalence of breast cancer makes early detection critical

According to the National Cancer Institute, women have about a 12 percent chance of developing breast cancer. In 2017 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States. With the exception of skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women and is the second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women.

Early detection through mammograms as well as clinical breast exams and self-exams remains key to preventing breast cancer deaths.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. Women ages 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year. Once women are 55 and older, the recommendation is that they continue with yearly screenings or have a mammogram every two years if that is their preference and if there’s not a medical reason to have them more often.

Women ages 20 to 39 should have clinical breast exams by a healthcare professional every three years and should perform monthly breast self-exams. And all women should report any breast changes to a healthcare provider right away.

Advanced digital mammography and Infusion Center available at St. Luke’s

St. Luke’s Hospital offers state-of-the-art digital mammography, the best and most advanced screening technology in the fight against breast cancer. Through digital mammography, high-quality, computer-generated images are created that radiologists then can manipulate and magnify, making abnormalities easier to detect. St. Luke’s also has a CAD (Computer-Aided Detection) system that helps detect even the smallest breast cancers at early stages.

St. Luke’s compassionate mammography team makes patients feel as comfortable as possible and answer any questions they have during the process, said Teresa Davis, RT (R)(M)  Radiologic Technologist (Radiology) (Mammography), director of radiology at St. Luke’s Hospital. For example, technologists receive specialized training with positioning to ensure that women’s breasts are placed correctly on the machine’s pad with the right compression to smooth out the breast tissue and thus lessen the chance of having to have another scan.

St. Luke’s also has the new SensorySuite mammography room with large-screen TV monitors that display calming images such as waves lapping on the beach or a pristine stream. In the background, patients hear the sound of waves and smell pleasant aromas with the scent of a diffuser and non-allergenic scents.

“Even the light lavender walls in the Mammography room help make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patient,” Davis said.

Should cancer be detected and treatment be required, world-class chemotherapy is now available on-site at the St. Luke’s Hospital Infusion Center, one of 26 regional cancer treatment centers in partnership with the renowned Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) which part of the Carolinas HealthCare System of Charlotte.

Under the direction of oncologist Matthew Rees, MD, the recently opened center offers a close-to-home, patient-centered alternative for chemotherapy and intravenous therapy (IV) treatments in a convenient, caring atmosphere focused on the latest breakthrough in chemotherapy and infusion treatments. Other services include IV antibiotics, blood transfusions, IV hydration, IV infusions for rheumatoid arthritis, injections, physician consults and treatment for oncology and hematology diagnoses.

With October nationally known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Mammography team at St. Luke’s Hospital gives a special gift to everyone who undergoes a mammogram this month. As a special incentive to encourage people to follow through with the screening, there will be a drawing at the end of the month for a beautiful basket filled with pink surprises!

“We encourage women—and men—to pay attention to subtle changes in their breasts and to have regular mammograms,” Davis said. “Early detection can make the difference!”

Schedule your annual mammogram today by calling St. Luke’s Hospital’s Radiology Department at 828-894-0854.

– submitted by St. Luke’s Hospital