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Health Beat: Being your breast self

An image of a mammographer on base cleaning an imaging machine.

Tech. Sgt. Charlie Brown, the only mammographer on base, cleans the imaging machine used for examining breast tissue. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is a good time for women age 40 and older to schedule their annual mammogram. An information booth will be located in the front lobby of the 72nd Medical Group throughout the month. To schedule your mammogram, you can contact Diagnostic Imaging at 582-6193. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)

When was your last mammogram?

Tech. Sgt. Charlie Brown, 72nd Medical Group mammographer, said women over 40 should be going in for a mammogram yearly.

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the Med Group pushes out important messaging about breast cancer prevention and detection; one of those messages is mammograms save lives.

“We go by the American College of Radiology that recommends a mammogram every year,” Brown said. “People don’t like getting mammograms, but that’s not a good reason not to get one. They’re necessary.” 

The Med Group has already started calling people and sending letters out for their breast cancer promotion this month and have scheduled 60 exams in the last two weeks.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and early detection can be critical.

 “Some cancers can be aggressive, and it only takes a year for them to develop. So if you wait two years, that could be too long and it could be a bigger problem or maybe even just go undiagnosed,” Brown said.

While the examination may not be the most enjoyable experience, the Med Group strives to maintain a comfortable environment for patients and technological strides in the medical field have made the process easier.

“Our mammography suite is very calm and tranquil, and they make you comfortable so when you walk into it you’re not feeling that stress,” said Kim Ross, a nurse with the Med Group. “I think a lot of it is the stigma of it being painful and, honestly, there’s a big difference in how it was years ago and how it is now with technology. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not painful.”

Although 3D mammograms are becoming more common, this more comfortable alternative to the traditional 2D mammogram is not available at all clinics.

“Our machine actually can convert to 3D, we just don’t have the patient load to justify it. So if we get more patients, we may be able to justify paying for it,” Brown said. “We also do breast ultrasounds. So if something is seen in a mammogram and the radiologist recommends ultrasound, we usually get them right across the hall same day. Since we have our radiologist here, we do same-day readings so they get their results quickly and they know before they leave if they need additional pictures and can get that done the same day also.”

It’s not just mammograms that save lives.

Brown said regular breast self-examinations are important in noticing any changes.

“Breast self-exams are a big part of overall wellness,” Brown said. “You can identify lumps often before your mammogram. If you have dense breast tissue, then self-breast exams are more important because even with a 3D mammogram a lump can be missed. Pay attention, do the self-breast exams monthly.”

Monthly self-examinations are also important for men, as they generally only have mammograms done symptomatically.

Every patient who goes in for a mammogram during the month of October will receive a raffle ticket for a gift bag. The Med Group will also have a table set up in the lobby for the month of October with literature containing breast cancer facts and statistics along with shower hangers that explain how to properly perform a self-exam. 

“A lot of people don’t know we’re here because I’m the only mammographer on base,” Brown said. “We want people to know that we have mammogram capabilities here if you have Tricare and access to base.”

Brown said that scheduling is flexible and to schedule your mammogram, you can contact Diagnostic Imaging at 582-6188.