Monday Medical: Summer can be pink, too | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Summer can be pink, too

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

October may be breast cancer awareness month, but it's not the only time to think about breast health. July can be "pink" as well. Below are three good reasons to remember breast health through the summer – and all year long.

• Why get a mammogram in summer? It can save you time.

In October, when breast cancer awareness is in full swing, many women make an appointment for their annual screening mammogram. In addition, more women want appointments later in the year as their insurance deductibles have been met. Together, those factors make for busier doctors' offices.

"In summer, it is a less busy time, so we can get it done more quickly, and (patients) have their choice of times," said Dr. Terese Kaske, medical director of the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center.

Most insurance companies only cover one screening mammogram every calendar year, so be sure to check with your insurance before changing your schedule. Sign up to receive reminders for annual screenings from The American Cancer Society at cancer.org/remindme.

Also, always let your health care provider know if you have a lump or other concerns before your appointment, as more detailed evaluations require a doctor's order.

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• Why get mammograms? They save lives.

"Small, treatable, curable — we want to find it before we feel it, is always the goal," Kaske said. Having a lumpectomy for a small, contained cancer is simpler, less costly and safer than having a mastectomy and chemotherapy for a more advanced cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends women have annual screening mammograms beginning at age 40.

Some women ask Kaske whether they really need to come in every year, especially if they don't have a family history of breast cancer. Kaske always says 'yes:' in 75 percent of breast cancer diagnoses, there is no family history.

"Not having a family history doesn't mean you shouldn't have your mammogram," she said.

Another issue some women may have heard about is over-diagnosis, or that a screening will reveal a cancer that would have never progressed. This issue is controversial, as no one can predict which cancers will be "bad actors," Kaske said. "We still believe the benefit of a yearly screening mammography is to find any cancer early when treatment options are less aggressive and costly."

• What to expect? A quick, painless process.

For women who have never had a mammogram, the process can seem daunting, but it shouldn't.

"It's quick, and it should not be painful," Kaske said.

To get a good image, a technologist positions the breast on the X-ray machine's lower plate, then lowers the upper plate to squeeze the breast for several seconds while a picture is taken. The compression is important for several reasons: It keeps the tissue still, it makes it possible to find subtler abnormalities and it minimizes the dose of radiation required.

At the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, extra efforts are made to keep the process pleasant: Results are delivered quickly, often while the patient waits in the office, the staff is friendly and flavored water and homemade muffins are available.

With the lazy days of summer still stretching ahead, there's plenty of time to get in for a mammogram. Breast health is important — don't wait for October to remember it. The Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center can be reached at 970-875-2604.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached by email at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.