Community Commentary: Women, take control of your breast health

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Yet when detected early, survival rates can be as high as 98%.

So why is it that more women aren't getting annual mammograms? In the past eight years, national studies have shown a decrease in annual screening mammograms among women 40 and older.

Some women say they don't get screened because they've heard that mammograms are painful or they take too long. However, because of recent technological advances, these characterizations are no longer true.

The same technologies that have evolved mammograms into more accurate screening examinations have also resulted in more convenience and speed. What used to be a 20-minute procedure now takes four or five.

Flexible mammography paddles also make the process more comfortable than in years past. What many women may not realize is that advanced digital technologies have become the gold standard at many of the country's best hospitals, including Mission Hospital.

Mammography centers are also becoming more and more accommodating to the working woman's schedule. Women who have trouble finding time to get their mammograms scheduled should check with their local imaging centers for extended appointment hours.

Many care centers are also beginning to offer comprehensive services all under one roof. For example, Mission Hospital offers breast health clinical teams and certified breast cancer and imaging "nurse navigators," designated nurses who guide patients through every step of the treatment process.

Of course, even with increased convenience and comfort, there are women who still hesitate to get a screening mammogram. Many think they aren't at risk because they have no family history. However, 85% of all breast cancers occur in women with no family history.

Some women think they don't need a mammogram because they feel healthy. But the right time to come in for their mammograms is when they're feeling healthy, because we now have the technology to catch the smallest cancers in their earliest stages. With survival rates at their highest during the earliest stages of breast cancer, it is vitally important for women 40 and older to get their mammograms every year. Missing one can make a significant difference in how early breast cancer is found.

As a women's imaging radiologist who has been in practice for 27 years, I am an ongoing advocate for annual screening mammograms. I feel compelled to share this message because mammograms have been proven to save lives, and there is no better defense against breast cancer than getting your annual mammogram. There are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, the majority of whom would not be cancer-free today were it not for getting their mammograms.

In May, Mission Hospital will challenge 1,000 women to take a Pinky Pledge and schedule their annual screening mammograms. Whether it's at Mission Hospital or another location, if you are a woman and 40 or older, I encourage you to make that pledge. Make that commitment to take control of your breast health. It could save your life.

DR. STEPHEN SIMON is the lead interpreting physician at Mission Hospital's Women's Wellness Center. He is a board certified radiologist who specializes in women's imaging and has been practicing in the field of radiology for 27 years. During May, Mission Hospital makes it easy to schedule a mammogram at, or by calling (866) 253-0445.

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