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Tinker offers mammograms

Carol Cook, 72nd Medical Support Squadron Diagnostics and Therapeutic Flight Mammography technician, left, positions the machine to take a picture of Malori Volz’s breast. The 28-year-old flight X-ray volunteer poses for her baseline mammogram, but does not have a family history of breast cancer. (Air Force photo by Brandice J. O’Brien)

Carol Cook, 72nd Medical Support Squadron Diagnostics and Therapeutic Flight Mammography technician, left, positions the machine to take a picture of Malori Volz’s breast. The 28-year-old flight X-ray volunteer poses for her baseline mammogram, but does not have a family history of breast cancer. (Air Force photo by Brandice J. O’Brien)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Approximately 232,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2013. Of them, 65,000 cases will be in the earliest stage, but overall 40,000 women will succumb to the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

For the first time in several years, the 72nd Medical Group is equipped to perform digital mammograms, which can potentially save lives. The equipment is nationally certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and passed the rigorous Mammography Quality Standards Act accreditation as of April 2013.

"An unpleasant fact remains that 108 American women die of breast cancer each day. Some can live for a decade or more with the metastatic disease, but the median life span is 26 months," said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Casper, 72nd Medical Support Squadron Diagnostics and Therapeutic Flight Diagnostic Imaging noncommissioned officer in charge. "The goal is to provide the ladies, and yes, even men, who will have a mammogram done here at the 72nd MDG the peace of mind that they are getting the best national credentialed care with the latest leading technology for early detection, enhanced with a compassionate mammographer who has the ability to turn a not-so-enjoyable procedure into a pleasant visit."

Digital mammograms offer several additional benefits including better images when identifying subtleties between normal and abnormal tissues, easier storage, and the ability to share files electronically, enabling easier long-distance consultations between radiologists and breast surgeons. Plus, files of their images and radiologist reports can be downloaded to a disc for women who may need to see a specialist or to take with them when they move from the local area.

"Women or men cannot detect breast cancer. Only thru breast self-examinations, mammograms, ultrasound and MRI will you be able to see any changes within one's breast," said mammography technologist Carol Cook. "Most of the time when the women or man feels that one big lump or pain, the concerns sets in.

"Men can get breast cancer and I have seen many cases that just started by enlargement of one breast, or tenderness, retraction of an area, discharge from the nipple," she said. "These are some of the same symptoms in women, but women have more to look for, due to the changes in our bodies and hormones."

Baseline mammograms are encouraged for women between the ages of 35 and 40 if there is no history of breast cancer in the family. If there is, individuals should have their baseline mammogram performed 10 years prior to when the family member was first diagnosed. If a mother was diagnosed at 42 years old, her daughter should have her first mammogram done at 32.

While the experience is said to be uncomfortable, there are precautions to take to better the process including not having it done while menstruating, do not ingest caffeine two weeks prior to the procedure and do not have it done if the area is sunburned.

Additionally, patients are encouraged to take a pain reliever before the appointment. If there is still pain, the patient can request a comfort pad.

Should a woman want to have her appointment at the medical group, it takes roughly a half hour, but Ms. Cook said she will cater to them.

"We're open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but I have taken a lady at 3:45 p.m. I'll take walk-ins if they don't mind waiting a couple of minutes," she said. "There have been times where I've done a screening and seen something in it and have taken additional pictures. Then, I'll have the radiologist look at the images right then instead of having to call the patient back. I know some patients live far away."

During the process, Ms. Cook will clean the machine and explain the procedure and how the machine works.

She takes four images -- a front and side view of each breast. The pictures are two dimensional and in order to take accurate images, the breast tissue must be compressed and the patient must hold still.

Once the images are taken, Ms. Cook said within 10 to 15 minutes, they are reviewed by the radiologist. If the radiologist would like more in-depth views on areas of interest, Ms. Cook will notify the patient via a phone call the morning after the appointment to return for follow-up consultation.

If the images show no indication of needing further review, the patient will receive a letter in the mail. The letter is also sent out the morning after the appointment. The diagnostic imaging department will not inform the patient of any results of their mammogram; that is responsibility of the patient's health care team.

Ms. Cook has been a technician since 2004, but cross-trained into mammography in 2008 when she lost a high school friend to breast cancer.

"A lady can have a normal mammogram one year, but next year or even months later, can have an area that will present itself that will cause concern, which is how my friend found out about her case," Ms. Cook said. "Mammograms really should be done every year, and if a problem presents itself, then they should be checked as soon as possible by their doctor, and then visit the mammography department to verify any problems that might have occurred. Even though breast cancer might not run in your family, you might be the first one to carry it in yours."

For more information, call the Diagnostic Imaging at 582-6193 or 6188.