By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
Area health professionals want to emphasize the importance of yearly mammograms.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women older than 40 get an annual breast exam and mammogram. Silissa Eckhart and Tonya Edfors, from the Medical Associates radiology department, said mammograms can make a big difference in the detection and treatment of breast cancer.
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray examination in which the breast is compressed. Eckhart and Edfors said these exams have a 78 percent sensitivity in detecting abnormalities. This jumps to 83 percent for women older than 50. Eckhart added that mammograms have been known to detect breast cancer as much as two years before the lump is large enough to be felt.
“The earlier it’s found, the much more curable it is,” Edfors said.
Dona Bark, with Genesis VNA, said if a woman detects breast cancer early enough, the survival rate is 100 percent. She coordinates the Care for Yourself program in both Clinton and Jackson counties. She added the survival rate gradually decreases the longer it goes undetected.
“The earlier that it’s caught, the better,” Bark said.
Bark said that this year the state of Iowa is focusing on making sure women are getting mammograms. Edfors said most women who need the exam are getting it, but not all.
“I think more and more people are getting their mammograms, but there are still far too many who don’t,” Bark said.
Women avoid annual breast exams and mammograms for several reasons. Some are afraid it might hurt, do not think they have the time or simply do not want to know. Others think they cannot afford it.
Bark said a breast exam and mammography can easily cost $300 to $400, even if nothing abnormal is found. For someone without healthcare coverage, this can be difficult.
The Care for Yourself program helps women in Clinton and Jackson counties by paying for breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings. This program is available to women between 40 and 64 years old, or with symptoms of breast cancer. If a woman is diagnosed with cancer, Bark will work to get her into Medicaid to pay for treatment.
Eckhart and Edfors said the screening does not typically hurt, but can be uncomfortable as the breast is compressed. Edfors added that if it would start hurting, they would stop compressing the breast. A typical mammogram appointment typically lasts 30 minutes or less.
Eckhart said that a big reason why a woman doesn’t have the test is that she is afraid to find out she might have cancer.
“It’s scary to think that you could possibly find a cancer, but it’s scarier to think that there’s a cancer growing that could be cured if you caught it early enough,” Bark said. “And the longer you wait, the worse it would be.”
She emphasized how important early detection is for breast cancer. While she understands people find it scary, she countered that some people find going to the dentist scary, but it does not prevent them from going.
“It’s worth it just to cowgirl up and get in and get it taken care of and then you’ll be able to relax and get it done each year,” Bark said.
This year, Bark is working with two students from the Ashford University Service Learning Program, Whitney Bush and Alex Bitto, to expand the Care for Yourself program’s outreach efforts. People riding the city bus will also get the message as an advertisement concerning the program will be visible in the exterior of the bus.
“So when people are riding, they have that to look at,” Bark said.
Bark is willing to speak to businesses and service organizations about the program. She can be contacted at 244-4925.