INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This year, the American Cancer Society says 268,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Doctors say the best preventative measure alongside self-exams is a mammogram, which can detect a tumor two years before a patient even feels a lump.
But the American College of Radiology says 40% of women have dense breasts, and for them, the X-ray exam may not immediately catch the disease.
FOX59’s Beairshelle Edmé learned Eskenazi Health is offering a new resource for Hoosier women who make up this group.
Manethia Banks, 49, was one of many women who often heard from others, “Oh, it’s gonna hurt!” when discussing mammograms.
She had her first one several years ago, and she “did get that phone call that I need to come back in the office and have another one done.”
The 49-year-old scheduled a biopsy, which later came back clear, but Banks learned she has dense breasts.
“A lot of women think that they can feel if they have dense breast tissue, but that’s not the case. It’s only something we can see on the mammogram,” explained Dr. Katherine Patterson, the director of St. Margaret’s Breast Center at Eskenazi Health.
As mentioned earlier, nearly half of women have dense breast tissue, which means she has more tissue than fat. Dense breast tissue shows up white on the X-ray, as Dr. Patterson explained to Edmé. She says cancer also shows up the same color on X-rays.
“It makes the mammogram harder to read, easier for cancer to hide, and it’s also a risk factor for developing breast cancer, so women with dense breasts really have two things going against them,” the physician said.
But mammograms have been the top tool to diagnose breast cancer.
In a recent study, ACS found in the last 30 years, breast cancer deaths are down by 40%, and because of mammograms, that same research found there have been 375,000 fewer deaths.
“The most important thing, I think, is early detection is really the best fight we have against breast cancer,” Patterson said.
But for women with dense breasts, the technology hasn’t been as effective, until now.
Eskenazi Health is offering patients a newer tool, the automated breast ultrasound, or ABUS, from GE Healthcare.
“It’s comfortable, it’s fast, there’s no radiation involved. It’s an ultrasound,” the doctor detailed. “The woman is laying on a bed with the arm up over her head, and the ultrasound machine scans up her breast, kind of like a rolling pin going up.”
Dr. Patterson says the additional breast screening allows doctors to see what they couldn’t before through 3D images, and it can increase a doctor’s chance of finding breast cancer.
“It brings comfort to me knowing that technology is out there and to help prevent it, so I’m all for the ABUS machine, and I’m all for women going to get checked yearly for their annual mammograms,” Banks reflected.
FOX59 checked around, and IU Health also offers ABUS for patients.
You can only get it with a doctor’s order after a traditional mammogram appointment, and often the supplemental testing can happen the same day.
Dr. Patterson says women have the option to start mammograms at 40-years-old.
From 45 to 50 years old, women should get a mammogram every year, according to ACS, and if you’re 55 years or older, the organization recommends every other year.
Experts say the best thing to do is talk to your doctor, and figure out what’s right for you.