SAN ANTONIO – Mammograms catch breast cancer early — don’t skip screenings, advises KSAT Community partner University Health System.
COVID-19 does not directly cause breast cancer, but the pandemic may be indirectly responsible for many women developing more difficult-to-treat tumors, according to University Health System doctors.
Dr. Pamela Otto, the lead radiologist for breast imaging at University Health System, said the initial stay-at-home advisories and ongoing fear of catching COVID-19 have resulted in many women skipping timely mammogram screenings.
Otto, who also chairs the Department of Radiology at UT Health San Antonio, explained mammogram screenings in April 2020 plummeted 89% across the country compared to April 2019. The number of newly diagnosed breast cancers that typically result from those screens dropped 48%.
“There are women with malignant tumors who are not getting early treatment and their cancers are growing,” Otto said. “We know they’re out there. We just haven’t diagnosed them.”
High-risk women should consider earlier screenings
While the American Radiological Association recommends annual mammograms beginning at age 40, some women are at risk for breast cancer at a younger age.
Talk with your physician about earlier screenings. if your mother, sister, or daughter had breast cancer or if you have a genetic mutation, that predisposes you to cancer. Exposure to some types of radiation may also place you at higher risk.
All women, regardless of age, should practice what Otto calls “breast health awareness.”
“When you are in the shower or taking a bath, notice if you feel something different,” said Otto. “Pay attention. Don’t ignore it.”
See a doctor right away if you notice any of these changes:
- A lump or swelling
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaly nipples or breast skin
- A discharge other than breast milk
Otto wants to reassure women that medical teams have taken extensive precautions to make sure screening locations are sterile and virus-free. Clinics she oversees for University Health System require masks for everyone, extra PPE for technicians and deep cleanings between mammograms.
She has added extra waiting rooms with plenty of social distancing.
“The dangers associated with not getting a timely mammogram are far greater than anything you will encounter at a screening site,” explained Otto. “The survival rate for patients whose breast cancer is diagnosed early is greater than 90%.”
Successful treatment often begins with a mammogram
Scheduling a mammogram is easy. If you are a University Health System patient you can quickly make an appointment through your online MyChart account.
You can also call the central scheduling office at (210) 358-2725; Mays Cancer Center at (210) 644-8850 or book an appointment with the mobile mammography unit by registering online here.
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