Self and clinical breast exams and mammography are on the front lines in the fight against breast cancer.
"Lifetime risk for women is one in eight and it increases as you age. Young women should have a clinical breast exam yearly before age 40. If they find anything suspicious, they should notify their provider and have them take a look," said Tamara Henderson, registered nurse and diagnostic breast navigator at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System.
After age 40, many breast health experts recommend yearly mammograms.
"There are a lot of confusing messages about the age of screening," said Dr. Douglas Trippe, radiologist at Wadley Regional Medical Center. "There are about six different organizations that have recommended different screening guidelines. The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging recommend beginning annual screening at age 40 and I agree with that. We know the earlier you find cancer, the chance of surviving is higher."
Everyone, regardless of family history, needs to take getting those screenings seriously.
"Getting your yearly mammograms is extremely important because 85 percent of women who have breast cancer have no family history," said Regina Yancy, lead mammography technician at St. Michael said.
For women with a family history of breast cancer, mammograms may be recommended at a younger age.
"When it comes to family history, the rule of thumb is usually to begin mammograms 10 years prior to when breast cancer was discovered in a relative. For instance, if mom was diagnosed at 40, you start mammograms at 30," Henderson said.
If the screening mammogram shows something suspicious, the next steps include more testing.
"If we have a screening mammogram and we want to look at it in more detail, we'll refer them for a diagnostic mammogram and/or and ultrasound," Henderson said.
Often that something 'suspicious' detected by a screening mammogram turns out to be nothing to worry about.
"If you want to put it into a statistic, we call back 10% to 11%, so for every 1,000 mammograms, 100 to 110 will be called back for extra views," Trippe said. "If on routine views we see something suspicious or something has changed, we'll do spot views. Eighty percent of those get cleared and only about 20 percent end up in biopsy. Of those biopsied, about 25 percent end up actually being breast cancer. If you look at those numbers from the top, we expect to find four to four and a half cancers for every 1,000 screenings."
Wadley and St. Michael provide 3D mammography.
"It's a great benefit to the patient. We can catch things at a much earlier stage. It's very helpful to those with dense breast," Yancy said.
Wadley has had the 3D mammography for about a year.
"For women with dense breast it is very good. We're suppose to find 20 percent more cancer with 3D and we have. We have found some three or four millimeter cancers we wouldn't have seen otherwise," Trippe said.
There is help available for women who are uninsured or underinsured. Both Wadley Regional Medical Center and St. Michael receive funds from Komen to cover the cost of testing for women who can't afford it.
"We don't want people not to get a screening mammogram because of financial reasons. We have services to help women with costs and we can offer some co-pay assistance through CHRISTUS and Komen," Henderson said.
"Limited funds are available through a grant written to the Susan G. Komen Arkansas Affiliate. There are also funds through the Arkansas Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention program that women can be referred if they are an Arkansas resident. There are funds also in Texas but they are extremely limited," said Shelby Brown, Wadley director of marketing. "The stress of knowing that you might possibly have breast cancer and no money to have the needed tests performed is something that no woman should face. Whether the patient has no insurance or has insurance but a high deductible, the Komen funds are used to alleviate those financial barriers and give women access to diagnostic procedures such as a diagnostic mammogram including 3D if needed, an ultrasound, a breast MRI and an outpatient biopsy."