Good News: Breast Screening doesn’t have to be Complicated!

Our partners at Novant Health want you to know your options

Women know that breast screening can catch cancer early and save lives. However, sorting through the recommendations and knowing what is best for them – that isn’t always easy. Nicole Abinanti, MD, understands that all too well. “People come in with lots of questions, especially with the conflicting recommendations that are being given these days,” said Abinanti, medical director of women’s imaging at Novant Health and Mecklenburg Radiology Associates.

The good news is that breast screening doesn’t have to be complicated.

“It all starts with mammography,” said Abinanti, “An X-ray of the breast that is recommended for all women starting at age 40, or possibly earlier for high-risk patients.” The traditional, two-dimensional mammogram usually takes about 15 minutes. Results will be sent by mail usually within a few weeks. If additional imaging is required, a patient will get a call to set up the additional testing.

In addition to the traditional mammogram, women now can get a 3-D mammogram, also known as tomosynthesis, which allows for a more-detailed view of the breast tissue. The 3-D mammogram moves the X-ray tube in a slight arc over the breast, capturing multiple images. The machine reformats those images into 1 mm slices to be interpreted by the radiologist. The experience for the patient is the same as with the 2-D mammogram.

“For women with dense breast tissue, it allows us to see through that tissue,” Abinanti said. Patients can elect a 3-D mammogram, which is not covered by insurance. The cost at Novant Health is $55. Ultimately, having the 3-D mammogram as part of routine breast screening can mean fewer call-backs for additional images since some of the questions a radiologist might have about a patient’s initial mammogram images can be answered by a 3-D version.

MRI is a technology used for screening high-risk women. High-risk women include those with a close relative with breast or ovarian cancer, those with genetic mutations, or women who had radiation to the chest when their breasts were developing. The newest tool in breast screening: Abbreviated breast MRI. This is a shorter version of a full breast MRI. The new, abbreviated version is for women who don’t have a high risk for cancer, but who have dense breasts and want screening beyond the mammogram.

“This is for women who want something in addition to the mammogram,” Abinanti said. “Recently, radiologists began reporting to women the density level of their breast tissue and being able to offer the abbreviated breast MRI gives an added level of comfort to women with dense breasts.”

It is important for patients to understand the difference between a screening and a diagnostic test, Abinanti said. Screenings are for women with no symptoms. “If you’re having a problem, screening is not the appropriate test,” she said. “If you feel a lump, have bloody nipple discharge, skin changes or pain in one single spot that never goes away and worsens over time, you need a diagnostic test. In a diagnostic exam, the radiologist interprets the images while the patient is present and has the ability to examine them and perform additional testing if needed.”

New tools in breast care, such as the 3-D mammogram and the abbreviated breast MRI, are “offering us a new level of reassurance,” Abinanti said.

Schedule your mammogram today.