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Mammograms Can and Do Save Lives

Shauna Farnell | Vail Valley Medical Center

The American Cancer Society estimates that 40000 women will die from breast cancer this year. When it comes to life or death – and the quality of days in between – most of us prefer to be safe rather than sorry although there has been some debate in recent months as to the importance and efficacy of mammograms. A few articles even suggest that mammogram screening doesn't help detect breast cancer or save lives. But the world's top breast cancer specialists – including those right here in Vail – insist they are dead wrong.

The misinformation is particularly dangerous because it has led to a decrease in breast screening. Many women now particularly those between the ages of 40 and 50 are simply avoiding getting a mammogram because they have been led to believe it isn't necessary.

“The first thing I'd say to them is don't skip it” says Dr. Janice Ugale radiologist and breast imaging specialist at Shaw Regional Cancer Center's Sonnenalp Breast Center. “One of the things we've found is that breast cancer tends to be more aggressive in younger women. When you look at 40- to 50-year-old women they're in the prime of their lives they have jobs children and it's a big impact if they're diagnosed too late. Stage 1 can be just a little blip on the radar of life. Please don't skip your mammograms.”

The Canadian study that triggered the recent controversy – released in the British Medical Journal but proven to be highly flawed and nearly 20 years old –  implied that early detection of breast cancer is unnecessary and that women don't need to be screened until they're 60 years old. Dr. Laszlo Tabar renowned international expert in radiology and mammography chastised an article published in the New York Times this winter that cited the study for launching “new doubts about the value of mammograms.” Dr. Tabar who like Dr. Ugale has studied breast cancer for more than 40 years accuses the study and its publicity as returning to “the dark ages in breast screening.”

Dr. Paula Gordon Clinical Professor at the University of British Columbia wrote a lashing retort to the New York Times article saying “It's just wrong that a poorly designed and poorly executed study done decades ago in Canada could potentially cost thousands of American and Canadian women's lives. It will dissuade women from having mammograms and women will die.”

The Sonnenalp Breast Center at Shaw Regional Cancer Center is now home to 3D mammography which is considered the most accurate state-of-the-art screening available. Sonnenalp has been accredited by The American College of Radiology as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.

Dr. Ugale points out that “it's a really big deal for us to attain this designation” and that the honor was awarded for the Sonnenalp Breast Center's advanced technology in mammography biopsies ultrasounds and the entire staff's specialization in breast imaging.

At the Sonnenalp Breast Center mammography technologist Colleen Berga points out that women who have mammograms detecting Stage 1 breast cancer have almost a 97 percent survival rate when treated at Shaw compared to a national average of 92.2. Contrary to the Canadian study and any other that attempts to devalue it mammography is still as Dr. Ugale puts it “the gold standard in breast cancer screening.”

“We know that detecting early breast cancer gives a woman the best chance at survival” she says emphasizing that every woman aged 40 and older should get a mammogram once a year.

In August 3D mammography will also be available in Summit County when the Shaw Breast Center and Cancer Clinic opens in Frisco at 323 West Main Street. The Frisco clinic will be the only breast center in Summit County with 3D mammography and staffed by certified breast experts.

You can schedule your 3D mammogram at the Sonnenalp Breast Center in Edwards by calling (970) 569-7690 or the new Shaw Breast Center and Cancer Clinic in Frisco by calling (970) 668-6400.