The Importance of a Mammogram in Breast Cancer Detection

MANY women in today’s modernised society shun the importance of knowing more about breast cancer.

They are guided by the false misconception that they can never develop the deadly cancer simply because it has never been detected in their families.

A survey conducted by Prime Focus this month revealed that one in every 10 women actually understands the importance of going for a breast cancer test.

One of the easiest ways of eliminating one’s chances of developing breast cancer is through getting a mammogram.

Mammograms are a sure-fire way of eliminating the breast cancer pandemic that has hovered across Namibia like a dark cloud. While mammograms are obviously not the most pleasant, they are undoubtedly necessary for every woman in ensuring good health, and safety that contribute to a peace of mind.

A mammography is an x-ray photograph of the breasts that helps in detecting possible cancers or diseased growths that attack women. A mammography work station uses a specially designed x-ray image which displays any changes and growths within the breast.

Sarah Marcus is the co-owner of Proqual Imaging Diagnostis, a Windhoek based clinic that specialises mostly in mammography. During her tenacious years of practising as a nurse, Marcus went for a training workshop at a private clinic in Johannesburg and came back empowered to impart her skills by making a difference in people’s lives.

“When I came back I just wanted to do mammography. I didn’t get a lot of support and when a Mammography Women’s Centre was opened in Maerua Mall (Windhoek) they sent me to lead the practise there,” says Marcus, who was voted as the vice chairperson of the Radiography Association of Namibia last year.

Her mammography imaging company offers free mammogram testing to the underprivileged members of society who cannot afford undertaking the important test.

“The breast is compressed in the x-ray machine and PACS viewer images are taken of at least two different angles in order to get the best possible view. There are two different types of mammography viewers. These are the screening mammograms and the diagnostic mammograms. Screening mammograms are from side to side and top to bottom while diagnostic mammograms centralise the images on a specific area. Both can be displayed using either a PACS web viewer or PACS workstations,” she explains.

Mammograms are common procedures that do not take very long to do. Patients are asked to disrobe and put on the common medical gown, with an opening in the front. They then stand up and face an x-ray machine, where a technologist places their breasts between two plastic plates.

The plates will then come together and compress. This is the painful part but it is necessary in order to get a clear image to read. The entire process generally takes between 10-15 minutes. The doctor then discusses the results with the patient.

“Any woman can be at risk of getting breast cancer and because the chances of that risk only grow higher as the years go by, it is vital for every woman to get a mammogram done early on. Many women have the wrong misconception that if no one in their families once suffered from breast cancer then it automatically makes them unsusceptible. That train of thinking can be dangerous.

“While having a family history of breast cancer makes it easier to track who may get it later on in life, those without any prior family history of breast cancer can develop it too,” she says.

The test can accurately detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. If cancerous cells are found early before they attack the lymph nodes, the chances for survival are between 78% and 97%. Those odds are much more favourable than finding the cancer later on.
“If a lump is found as a result of your mammogram, your doctor will feel the lump with their hand and access the condition of the lump and the tissue surrounding it. An ultrasound test may be needed to get an image of how large the lump is. Needle biopsy may be performed in order to get fluid from the mass for further testing.
“In addition to receiving a mammogram, checking your breasts yourself at home is also another way to practice early detection. Learn to be familiar with the way your breasts feel and look in appearance. Do a self-breast exam often to feel for any lumps or other unnatural occurrences. If you find anything out of the ordinary, make an appointment with your doctor,” she recommends.

A mammography workstation is easily a woman’s best weapon against the deadly breast cancer that has tethered throughout the country. The mammography viewer shows health professionals of any changes, both big and small, in the breast tissue at early stages when it is much more treatable. Lumps can be spotted before they are even able to be felt in a manual breast exam. An annual breast mammogram increases the rate of breast cancer survival. It is that important. PF