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Don’t Let COVID-19 Derail Your Annual Mammogram

Hospital news | Monday, October 11, 2021

RiverView Health would like to remind everyone that breast cancer cases do not stop because of a global pandemic, and neither should annual mammograms.

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before cancer can be felt.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US every two minutes. Every 60 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from breast cancer; that is more than 1,400 women every day.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to send the message that even though COVID-19 has been the main health-related focus for the past eighteen months, regular screenings and care for other diseases are as important now as ever.

As with all healthcare systems, RiverView saw a significant drop in patients coming in for routine exams during the height of the COVID pandemic, mammograms included.
Fortunately, Janeen Brule, radiological technologist, reports that mammograms have rebounded at RiverView to near pre-COVID numbers.

"Women definitely should be getting their mammograms yearly from 40 to 80 because chances of finding cancer at an earlier and more curable stage is what we are all aiming for," Brule shared. "It's heartbreaking when a woman who has missed a year or two of mammograms then comes in and ends up with a positive biopsy."

Brule speaks from experience, as she has been doing mammography for the past 18 years at RiverView. She shares RiverView's guidelines for screening mammograms:

  • Women at average risk should have a baseline mammogram at age 40 and yearly until age 80
  • At age 80, it is up to the patient, primary care provider, and based on medical history

3D Mammography

In 2016, RiverView Health was one of the first in the area to offer 3D mammography. This technology allows for pictures to be taken as thin slices of the breast from different angles and computer software reconstructs the image. Breast tissue can then be examined layer by layer instead of only a flat image.

3D technology is proven to detect 41 percent more invasive breast cancers and reduce false-positive results by up to 40 percent. 3D mammography leads to reduced imaging callbacks and additional tests; earlier detection of small breast cancers; greater accuracy in pinpointing size, shape, and location of abnormalities; and greater likelihood of detecting multiple breast tumors, which occur in 15 percent of breast cancer patients.

According to Brule, most insurance companies cover one preventative screening 2D mammogram a year, and most now cover 3D mammograms. 3D mammograms are done at RiverView unless a patient specifies insurance will only pay for 2D.

Financial Assistance is Available

If cost is a factor, RiverView participates in the Sage Screening Program. The Sage Program helps keep Minnesotans healthy through screening and early detection of breast and cervical cancer, as well as colorectal cancer screening services for Minnesota’s uninsured and underinsured. Screenings are provided at participating locations, like RiverView, free of charge to people who qualify.

The Sage Program maintains a call center staffed by patient navigators who speak several languages. The navigators answer calls Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, and assist Minnesota callers with program eligibility, identifying and addressing barriers to screening, scheduling appointments, and providing referrals to appropriate resources. The toll-free number is 888-643-2584.

Brule recommends that each patient have a primary care provider available to go over test results and provide guidance if the results lead to a callback. A referral for a mammogram is not needed, though, so a patient can call and make their own appointment.

COVID-19 Precautions

Patient safety has always been at the forefront in the Diagnostic Imaging Department, Brule reported. Still, RiverView, in general, has added cleaning and safety protocols due to the pandemic. All patients visiting a RiverView facility must wear a mask, visitor restrictions are in place for anyone with respiratory issues, and everyone entering the facility is screened at the door.

Every precaution is in place to assure patient safety and wellbeing; therefore, do not let COVID derail your annual exams. Early detection is the best defense against breast cancer. Successful treatment and survival rates for breast cancer patients are dramatically affected the earlier the disease is caught. If breast cancer is found early, before it has spread to lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent.

To make an appointment for a mammogram, call RiverView's Digital Imaging Department at 281.9428.

Pictured above: Janeen Brule is a radiological technologist at RiverView. She’s worked in mammography for 18 years.