By Jennifer Bringle
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of our day-to-day lives has changed significantly. And the same goes for clinical environments. While it may be tempting to skip routine screenings to avoid COVID exposure, forgoing preventative care like annual mammograms can be far more detrimental to your health.
Rachel McEachern, MD, a fellowship-trained Breast Radiologist and the Co-Director of Breast Imaging of Asheville Radiology Associates, said COVID-19 shouldn’t deter women from getting their annual mammogram, and “We know starting annual mammography screening at age 40 will save the most lives.”
Here are a few things, according to Dr. McEachern, that women should know about receiving a mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Having a mammogram annually can help catch cancer earlier.
One of the major benefits of having screenings done each year is the ability to compare breast images over time to detect small changes. “Architectural distortion can be very subtle on mammography,” said Dr. McEachern. “Comparison exams are our best friend — it allows us to detect subtle changes. Looking for change year to year is one of the key things that helps us be good at our job.”
2. 3D mammograms allow radiologists to see more.
With 3D mammography, physicians like Dr. McEachern get a more complete picture of the breast tissue, making it easier to detect smaller cancers within the breast. “2D mammography is like looking at the cover of the book, but a 3D is like flipping through the pages — it’s telling a story,” she said.
3. Mammograms are a relatively quick and easy procedure.
While some women avoid mammograms because they’re concerned about discomfort during the procedure, Dr. McEachern said there’s no reason to fear mammograms. “The average screening mammogram takes about 15 minutes start to finish, and the actual exam itself is two-to-three minutes with the woman in compression,” she said. “Some people say it hurts, but it’s a short amount of discomfort for a potentially long-term gain of detecting an early breast cancer.”
4. Radiation exposure during a mammogram is minimal.
While there is exposure to radiation during mammogram, Dr. McEachern said it’s nominal. “We use radiation to do mammograms, but the dose is so low — it’s a fraction of what a chest X-ray would be. They’re incredibly safe,” she said.
5. COVID-19 prevention protocols are in place to keep patients safe.
Dr. McEachern said Mission Health’s radiology clinics have adopted a number of safety protocols to ensure patients are protected against exposure to COVID-19. “We’ve created safe practices at our centers with symptom checking, social distancing and requiring masks,” she said. “We’ve really modified the workflow in our clinics so it’s safe for our patients and staff.”
While a pandemic has certainly changed our lives, Dr. McEachern urges regular preventative care like mammograms shouldn’t be avoided. She said, “I would encourage women if you haven’t gotten your screening mammogram because of COVID or other personal reasons, that you come in and get your screening mammogram this year because breast cancer won’t wait.”
Rachel McEachern, MD, is a fellowship-trained Breast Radiologist and the Co-Director of Breast Imaging of Asheville Radiology Associates.