Breast cancer screening can save lives

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

by Dr. Paul S. Hogg

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — the perfect time to discuss the importance of mammography.

Because breast cancer is often detectable in its early stages when there’s a good chance for a cure, screening is essential to early detection.

Most significantly, mammography is an important line of defense against breast cancer because it can identify tumors even before they can be felt.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. It is also one of the leading causes of cancer death among women of all races.

In 2008 — the most recent year numbers are available — 210,203 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,589 died from the disease.

The National Cancer Institute recommends that women age 40 or older have screening mammograms every one to two years. If a woman is at high risk for developing breast cancer, her doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, along with additional imaging studies.


A conventional screening mammogram is a low-dose X-ray test that creates images of breast tissue so doctors can check for lesions or other abnormalities. The X-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt and can find micro-calcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

A mammogram used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign, or symptom of the disease is called a diagnostic mammogram. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign or non-cancerous breast conditions.


At Southampton Memorial Hospital, women who undergo routine mammograms also have up-to-date diagnostic technology with digital mammography.

While digital imaging feels almost identical to conventional mammography, its benefits are a shorter exam time than traditional mammograms and less chance that patients will be called back for repeat exams.

Digital images tend to provide doctors with better visibility of the breast, chest wall and dense breast tissue. Through computer-aided technology, radiologists can enhance certain areas of the digital images to get a more precise picture of a patient’s condition. The digital images can also be stored electronically and retrieved to share with other doctors.


To supplement this diagnostic technology, SMH has a digital computer-aided detection system that highlights common characteristics of breast cancer, including masses, clusters of micro-calcifications and breast tissue changes.

For more information on various breast diseases and conditions, the anatomy of the breasts, other screening tools and more, visit, choose the “Health Resources” tab and type “Breast Health” in the search box.

DR. PAUL S. HOGG received his degree from The Medical College of Virginia and is board certified in general surgery with the College of American Surgeons. He is with Southampton Surgical & Pulmonary Medicine at SMH and can be reached at 562-6181.