Why are mammograms recommended annually? Screening-detected tumors typically are smaller in size and less-advanced in stage, leading to higher breast cancer survival rates. According to Blount Memorial Breast Health Center manager Donna Brabson, 9,794 mammograms were done at the center from Aug. 31, 2021, to Aug. 31, 2022. In that time, 259 breast cancers were diagnosed, and of those, 68 were diagnosed as cancer in asymptomatic women undergoing annual screening. “Finding overtly suspicious findings on a screening mammogram is less frequent in women who have yearly mammograms because the year interval between screening does not allow malignancy enough time to propagate into a large or pronounced imaging appearance,” says fellowship-trained radiologist Dr. Kristen Carver from LeConte Radiology.
During an annual screening mammogram, images are taken of an asymptomatic patient’s breast to check for abnormalities. Most abnormal screening examinations are resolved with extra imaging – a different view may show the area is not concerning. Around 10 out of every 100 asymptomatic women are called back after a screening mammogram to investigate an area of question with a diagnostic mammogram.
Diagnostic mammograms are different from screening mammograms because specialized, targeted views are obtained rather than standard screening images. A diagnostic mammogram is ordered by a physician to address specific symptoms or physical findings such as a palpable lump or nipple discharge. If an image shows abnormalities, a patient may be asked to return for an ultrasound or biopsy.
A biopsy is a small sample of tissue removed for testing. Biopsies can be done in-office and are minimally invasive, so patients can return to work the same day if they choose. Typically, less than two percent of screened women receive recommendations for biopsies. Carver notes that “most patients are willing to undergo false positive diagnostic mammograms and biopsies in exchange for increased likelihood of detection.” In other words, most patients will do whatever testing or imaging is needed to ensure abnormalities are found and treated.
Even with this information, some still believe an annual screening isn’t really necessary, but opting to forgo mammography screenings can be risky. Although there have been many advances in breast cancer treatment, finding an advanced-stage tumor usually means more aggressive treatment and greater risk for the patient. Annual screenings help overcome that because yearly images are compared and can help find abnormalities before they become greater in stage and harder to treat. The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging recommends annual mammography screenings begin at age 40, but formal risk assessments can be done at age 25 for those with a family history of breast cancer or for those that are considered high risk.
For more information, contact the Blount Memorial Breast Health Center at 865-977-5590.