Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Diagnostic Imaging and Mammograms

Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 10:54 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA HEALTH, Va. (WHSV) - “It is only second most common to skin cancer so we see it every day. If a group of women if there are eight hanging together, one of them will experience a diagnosis of breast cancer in their life,” Dr. Brandi Nicholson said.

Seeing physicians like Dr. Nicholson is one of the first steps of a person’s breast cancer journey.

“We’re hoping to find and diagnose the breast cancer. We tend to take care of the well patients who are coming for preventative and screening tools and that includes screening mammography,” she said.

Mammograms allow doctors to examine breast tissue through X-ray imaging. Experts recommend they be done every year starting at 40 years old.

“There are times to start sooner, if a women has a strong family history or if a woman is know to carry a genetic mutation that increases her risk for breast cancer. There are times when starting sooner is a benefit to that patient,” Dr. Nicholson added.

Once the mammogram is done, Dr. Nicholson screens the images.

“Trying to identify the findings that cancer has formed. I also get to see women directly because if something is abnormal which is about 10 percent of the time, we will send something out of the group of screening studies they will come in and meet with both technologist and often the physician. We might do extra images and I will occasionally perform breast ultrasound where I can interact directly with the patient,” she said.

For every 100 women, 10 will be asked back for additional screening.

“The majority of women who have to come back in for a screening mammogram end up having good news. We do a few extra pictures and we are able to assure them that everything is fine,” Dr. Nicholson said. “So out of the 10 women who come back for additional pictures, six get that information eight when they come for diagnosis we don’t need to do anything else.”

With screening being one of the biggest factors in decreasing death from breast cancer, knowing your risks is extremely important in getting ahead of the disease.

“Some of it is hereditary but there are a lot of lifestyle things that people are just not aware of: our diets, nutrition choices, alcohol and tobacco all contribute to our breast cancer risk,” Donna Westermann, a nurse practitioner for the hospital, explained.

“Screening has made one of the biggest impacts from decreasing death from breast cancer. The data shows now that about 30% less women pass away from breast cancer because we are screening. You add in improvements in treatment and that is even better,” Dr. Nicholson explained.

Augusta Health works with the Virginia Department of Health on the Every Woman’s Life Program providing free breast and cervical exams for women in need.

“It is a luxury to be able to have those screenings and because it is so important to catch breast cancer at its earliest stage or cervical cancer at its earliest stage,” Stephanie Bartley, a case manager for the program, explained.

For more information on the Every Woman’s Life Program, click here.