As appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Scripts.
For those in health care, no matter the role, providing patients with access to quality care is a priority. Whether it is emergency care for an acute illness, treatment of a chronic condition, or routine screening services, it is important that patients have access to these services. During a global pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 crisis, some patients have limited access to medical care and, unfortunately, screening services are often skipped entirely.
According to Dr. Lisa Bennett with Northside Radiology Associates, a board-certified and subspecialized breast radiologist and director of breast services at Northside Hospital Cherokee, the ramifications of skipping annual screening mammograms have become evident during the past two years.
“We are diagnosing breast cancers at more advanced stages,” said Dr. Bennett. “For those women who could not have their annual mammograms because of COVID restrictions or who opted to not have their mammograms because of personal choice, that missed year in screening could result in detrimental outcomes. We are now seeing evidence of that with these cancers that are more advanced because of a delay in diagnosis.”
Scholarly research has shown that mammograms are the only diagnostic study proven to reduce the rate of death from breast cancer.
“Early detection saves lives. Cancers found during annual screening mammography are more likely to be smaller and confined to the breast,” said Dr. Bennett. “We support the American College of Radiology’s recommendation that women of average risk have routine screening mammograms every year beginning at age 40.”
“We are able to detect changes in women who are imaged every year,” Dr. Bennett added. “For women who skip their mammograms, the time between screening increases by at least a year, and that extra time can potentially allow cancers to grow unchecked.”
Another common question related to mammography and COVID centers around the timing of vaccinations.
“A very common reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine is the swelling of lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the injection,” said Dr. Bennett. “This is normal, and is a good sign that the immune system is responding appropriately. However, when seen on a mammogram, swollen lymph nodes sometimes indicate a more serious problem.”
Dr. Bennett and her colleagues at Northside Radiology Associates recommend that women, who are considering getting the COVID-19 vaccine near the time that they are due for their screening mammogram, get their mammogram first. If that is not possible, they should wait at least three weeks after vaccination to come in for their routine screening.
“This reduces both the chance of being called back and could eliminate the need for follow up testing to rule out other causes of swollen nodes,” said Dr. Bennett. “The exception, however, is diagnostic mammograms. If a patient needs a diagnostic mammogram or has an area of concern in her breast, she should not delay that appointment.”
At Northside Hospital and its imaging center locations, safety measures remain in place to reduce risk of exposure, while still allowing access to important screening services. Northside offers the most advanced 3D mammography technology at all of its mammography locations. The expertise and collective experience of the breast radiologists at Northside Radiology Associates is unmatched in the Southeast.
To schedule a mammogram, or any radiology services at Northside, call 404-851-6577. For more information, visit northside.com/mammography.