Digital mammograms provide best breast cancer detection

Technology provides better readings, faster results


When breast cancer is caught in its earliest stages, it can be cured. Sometimes with simple surgery -- and without chemotherapy or radiation.

Mammograms can detect some breast cancers before you can even feel it. Even so, many women don't have their yearly mammograms.

Deirdre Poole, 45, is one of those women. She should have had her first mammogram five years ago, but never did.

"I just didn't think about it. I didn't think I needed to worry about it," Poole said.

Now, she is changing that, by having her first mammogram at the Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos.

"I'm not really nervous, but a little anxious" Deirdre said.

She was quite surprised at the relaxing and inviting environment. 

"I love that they have robes in the changing room, folded nicely, with a little piece of chocolate on them. It was more like a spa than a hospital," Poole said.

Today, many centers go the extra mile to ease tensions and make the experience less frightening. The technicians talk the patients through each step, treating them with dignity and care.

"I felt so at ease, and the whole process was much quicker than I expected, and there was really no pain at all," she said.

The process took only four pictures and a few minutes. 

At Central Texas Medical Center, they use digital mammograms and have radiologists on hand ready to read the results.  

As soon as the pictures are taken, they show up on the radiologists screen in another room.

"We can read the results almost instantaneously," radiologist Dr. Stephen Swearingen said. "We can make the images smaller or larger (and) we examine them for symmetry (or for) masses and even small calcifications that can be an early sign of cancer."   

Swearingen says the computer also examines the images, and points out even the tiniest irregularities.

"It doesn't give you a final determination of whether it's abnormal or normal, it just says you might want to look at it twice," Swearingen said.

In Poole's case, the computer did detect a couple of suspicious areas, but Swearingen found that they were nothing to worry about.

"Overall, this is a benign mammogram," Swearingen said.

So within minutes of having her mammogram, Poole got the good news about the results. 

But Swearingen also reminds her -- and all women -- that a negative mammogram is not a reason to skip next year.

"A series of mammograms, one year after the next, is the best way for us to catch cancer early. Now we have a base line for Dierdre, and can compare her results each year. Even tiny changes will now catch our eye, and that small change can be a very small cancer." 

Poole promises she will be back next year.

"It was so much easier than I ever imagined. I am relieved to know I don't have breast cancer, and now understand why it's so important to have those mammograms," she said

With yearly mammograms, Poole said she can rest easy knowing that if she ever does develop breast cancer, she has a great chance of catching it while it can still be cured.

The Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation provide free mammograms to women who are uninsured or under-insured.

In addition to providing information about breast cancer and emotional support for patients and families, they also have funds to provide mammograms and other procedures for uninsured of underinsured women with low incomes.

Call is 210-692-9535 or visit their website.

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