Early detection key to surviving breast cancer

Tinker Air Force Base --    Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women in the United States, although lives can, have and will continue to be saved thanks to early detection.
   Maj. (Dr.) Jason Wagner, radiologist for the 72nd Medical Support Squadron, said his office performs about 1,500 mammograms a year.
   Of that number, they have identified in just the last year and a half 10 women with breast cancer, who now stand a good chance of survival because the disease was detected early.
   "Cardiovascular disease still takes the lives of more women than breast cancer," he said. "But breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women."
   But Maj. Wagner said yearly screening mammograms beginning at age 40 have been shown to reduce a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer by about 40 percent.
   Maj. Wagner said in 2007 it is estimated by the American Cancer Society that more than 178,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die of the disease.
   The number of deaths has been in decline in recent years as more women have taken the time to get a yearly mammogram.
   Maj. Wagner credits the 1992 Mammogram Quality Standards Act with quality improvements that have greatly enhanced early breast cancer detection.
   "That greatly improved the quality of mammography," he said. "For the last 10 years or so, women in the United States have benefited from excellent mammography and the word's gotten out and more women are getting them. It's making a difference."
   Maj. Wagner also said if a woman has had a prior mammogram it is helpful if she can secure her prior films. He said by looking at past films doctors can increase the detection of early malignancy and lessen the chance of a false positive.
   "The quality of the test is improved by having old mammograms to compare to," he said. "I tell women that their old mammograms should be treated like gold."
   For women seeking a mammogram on base, Maj. Wagner said there are two different ways to go about scheduling an appointment.
   For women with an on-base primary care manager, they are allowed to self-refer themselves for a mammogram but are encouraged to still see their health care provider first.
   For women with an off-base healthcare provider, a prescription is required for a mammogram.
   One factor that might encourage a woman to seek a mammogram before the age of 40 is if there is a history of breast cancer in her family.
   Maj. Wagner said in that instance it is important for a woman to discuss her family history with her health care provider.
   And while most cases of breast cancer affect women, it is possible for men to get breast cancer.
   "When it does occur, it behaves like in women," Maj. Wagner said. "But it's so much less common that no specific screening in recommended."
   Maj. Wagner said, however, that men should see their physician if they ever detect a lump in their chest area.
   Breast cancer affects about 2,000 men each year.
   The mammogram is a special X-ray procedure that records two views of each breast looking for signs of a malignancy. The procedure takes about 20 minutes.
   Maj. Wagner said if anything looks suspicious on the screening mammogram, the patient will be asked to return for additional imaging, which resolves the issue for most women.
   If there is a persistently suspicious finding, a biopsy may be performed and, if it is determined that cancer is present, the patient will be referred to a surgeon and may undergo radiation and chemotherapy.
   A mammogram will generally not be performed if a patient is pregnant or lactating.
The Mammography Act also mandates an annual onsite inspection by the Food and Drug Administration.
   The clinic at Tinker recently passed the FDA inspection with flying colors. It also received a three-year accreditation in June 2006 by the American College of Radiology.
In addition to the mammograms, the clinic performs about 11,000 general X-rays each year and about 1,800 ultrasounds.
   To schedule an appointment for a mammogram, call 736-2207.