Thursday, February 27, 2014

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – In today’s information driven society, as more data becomes available about breast health and mammograms, this can also mean conflicting recommendations for patients.

In a study published this month in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that death rates from breast cancer in women ages 40 to 59 were the same whether or not they received an annual mammogram.

However, just months earlier, a study from Harvard Medical School published in the journal Cancer found that many women who were diagnosed with and died from breast cancer had not had any prior screening mammograms.

So, how important is it to get a mammogram? According to Summit Health Breast Health Patient Navigator Laura Umbrell – extremely.

“I continue to repeat it as many times as possible: Early detection is the best protection,” she said. “I have seen many women’s lives saved simply by getting an annual mammogram or reporting a change they detected during a self-exam. The earlier we can detect it, the better the chance for positive outcomes.”

Umbrell said Summit Health supports the American Cancer Society guidelines regarding breast health screenings:

  • Starting in your 20s, a self-breast exam is recommended. Report any changes promptly to your doctor.
  • In your 20s and 30s, get a clinical breast exam about every three years and then every year once you turn 40.
  • In your 40s, yearly mammograms are recommended in addition to self-breast exams and exams by your doctor.
  • If you have a family history or genetic tendency toward breast cancer, an MRI may be recommended by your doctor in addition to mammograms

“Regular breast self-exams, age appropriate screening mammograms, and a yearly breast exam by a healthcare professional are very important to our efforts to detect breast cancer at an early stage,” Umbrell said.

Breast cancer does not always present itself as a lump. Symptoms also include changes to the skin, thickening of breast tissue, fluid from the nipple, or a change in the size and color of the breast.

Umbrell advises that knowing your body is important to both women and men – about 7 percent of all breast cancers are found in men. Any changes should be reported to your doctor.

In an effort to increase awareness among women, a new Pennsylvania law went into effect Feb. 1, which requires health providers to inform women about their breast density and how that can affect their health.

Breast density refers to the mix of fibrous, glandular, and fatty tissues within the breast. Those with more fibrous or glandular tissue, but not as much fat are considered dense, which may increase the risk of breast cancer.

Accordingly, Summit Health patients now receive information about their breast density and the possible effects when they receive their mammogram results.

In any situation, it is important to talk to your doctor, Umbrell advises, and find out what recommendations are best for you.

For more information about Summit Health’s mammography services, visit

Summit Health is a non-profit network of hospitals and physician practices dedicated to building a healthier community.

As Franklin County's leading healthcare provider, Summit Health offers family care, specialists, lab and imaging services, a fitness center, two walk-in care centers, and two award-winning hospitals.