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Dr. Bitner explains why mammograms are key to prevent breast cancer

Most people are aware of breast cancer and the fight to find a cure, but being aware of the disease is just the first step. Knowing how to prevent breast cancer is aware of the risk factors is also key to find cancer early if it's present.

Nationally recognized menopause specialist Dr. Diana Bitner says for the many women with unknown or low risk for breast cancer, the best place is to start with a mammogram.

Early detection can save lives from breast cancer. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast which can identify small tumors before they can be felt or clusters of calcium which can be a sign of cancer.

3D mammograms are also called tomo-mammograms, and are different by providing pictures of one small area of the breast at a time, and can reduce the need for being called back to look closer if a regular mammogram is not conclusive. Dense breasts limit how well a mammogram can detect breast tumors, and sometimes an ultrasound has to be done as well if there is any question of a small mass.

A screening mammogram is done when there are no signs or symptoms of cancer, and a diagnostic mammogram may require more pictures and magnification because there are already signs or symptoms of breast cancer such as focal pain, a lump, breast discharge, or skin dimpling.

Dr. Binter says women with low risk for breast cancer should start screening mammograms at age 40. While mammograms can reduce deaths from cancer by detecting cancer early, the decision when to have a mammogram is personal.

Mammograms are less sensitive in women who have dense breasts, and there are 4 categories of density, from entirely fatty (happens with age) to extremely dense. This is on every mammogram report done at Spectrum and is worth paying attention to.

Also, there are categories of mammograms called the BI-RADS Score ranging from 0 which means ‘needs further imaging”, 1 -negative and repeat in a year, 2-benign finding such as density, 3-probably benign, check again in 6 months, 4-suspicious and probably biopsy, 5-very suspicious and biopsy, and 6-cancer. It is the law in Michigan that women are told their category, and it is on every report at Spectrum. It is very important women know their score.

The experience of having a mammogram can be nerve-racking, but teams do whatever they can to make the experience comfortable and the result available as quickly as possible.

At Spectrum Health, nurse navigators guide patients through the process from a call to have a repeat mammogram, that something worrisome on the mammogram, or to guide patients through the process of cancer treatment.

October is the call to action to get a mammogram every year after the age of 40, see a healthcare provider for an annual breast exam, and to do self-exams. None of these methods are 100 percent sensitive, but together give patients the best chance of saving lives in low-risk women.

To set up an appointment with Dr. Bitner or her staff, call (616)267-8520. Their office is located at 3800 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Suite A., Grand Rapids.

Learn more about healthy living and women's health on her blog.

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