Women's magazines in every checkout lane feature countless articles on personal health and well-being. Understanding that one out of eight women will eventually develop breast cancer, Gundersen's breast care experts emphasize the importance of early detection, timely diagnosis, and modern treatment when it comes to breast cancer. Early detection is critical because breast cancers found during screenings are more likely to be smaller in size and still confined to the breast making them much more treatable.
For early detection of breast cancer, we recommend screening mammography for all women starting at age 40. The frequency of screening varies according to national guidelines. Ask your doctor what is appropriate for you.
Women at increased risk of breast cancer may benefit from additional screening strategies. Your doctor can help you decide what those strategies are.
You may be at higher risk if:
- You are age 50 or older
- Your mother or sister has had breast cancer
- You have already had cancer in one breast
- You have had a prior breast biopsy
Screening mammograms vs. Diagnostic mammograms
Screening mammograms provide a general overview using low-dose X-rays in search of cancer in women with no known breast problems. While not intended to diagnose cancer, screening mammography indicates when additional evaluation is necessary. If a questionable abnormality is detected, a more detailed diagnostic mammogram is the next step. Special X-ray views permit close, careful examination of any suspicious area. Fortunately only a small number of the approximately 10 percent of women recalled after a screening mammogram for additional evaluation prove to have cancer.
Digital breast tomosynthesis
The Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care now offers digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), which provides a more accurate view to standard digital mammography. Think of breast tomosynthesis as a three-dimensional mammogram with multiple images taken of the entire breast rather than just one. It allows our specialized breast radiologists to see layers of tissue that may normally be hidden and look at areas of concern from multiple angles.
Studies have shown that DBT:
- Detects some cancers more readily, resulting in earlier diagnosis which, in turn, may result in less aggressive treatment and better outcomes
- Decreases the number of patients called back for additional testing (false positives), resulting in less anxiety and decreased costs
Anyone who is due for a standard mammogram can elect to have a DBT. Currently, DBT is offered in La Crosse only at the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care.
Medicare covers payment for DBT. If you have private insurance by a different company, be sure to ask if DBT is a covered benefit before scheduling an appointment. If DBT is not covered but you would like to have it, the out-of-pocket fee is $75. If you do not have insurance, please speak to a Gundersen financial counselor to find out what your out-of-pocket cost will be.
Call the Center for Breast Care to schedule a DBT. If you have questions, talk to your primary care provider.
Knowing the importance of early detection in women, Gundersen is dedicated to making screening mammograms more accessible in our Tri-State Area. A 40-foot, self-contained digital mobile mammography coach travels to medical clinics, businesses, churches, communities, malls and other locations to bring this life-saving screening to women. Screening mammograms are performed right in the unit and take approximately 20 minutes.
Women are able to receive the highest quality mammography testing in a convenient setting. Other features of the mobile mammography coach include:
- Full field digital mammography
- Screenings performed by a registered mammography technologist
- All mammograms will be viewed by a breast radiologist at Gundersen's Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care
- The coach is able to run off its own generator, so no additional power supply is needed
One yearly screening mammogram for women over 40 years of age is covered by insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Women will not be turned away due to inability to pay. Screening is by appointment only.
Gundersen's mobile mammography unit travels to some regional Gundersen locations where mammography services would not otherwise be available. We currently provide services to Scenic Bluffs in Cashton, La Crescent, Harmony, Postville, Spring Grove, Lansing, Galesville, Houston, Holmen and Prevea Health in Arcadia.
How to supplement a mammogram
Mammography is useful because it can show breast tumors too small to be felt. However, about 10 percent of tumors are not visible on mammograms and can only be found by physical examination. That's why an exam by a primary care provider is important before the mammogram.
Regular breast self-examinations are encouraged between screening mammograms. Please discuss your risk factors with your doctor, especially if you have a previous history of breast cancer or a family history of the disease. If you see any change such as a lump, discharge, dimpling or anything unusual, contact your provider.
Sometimes after your initial mammogram, you will get a call or letter asking you to return for additional special views or an ultrasound study. This should not be cause for concern because women are called back fairly often. It simply indicates an area on the film needs to be looked at more closely.
Mammography is a department of Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center.