October may be Breast Health Awareness Month, but breast health is something that is important year-round. We talked to Dr. Rachel Preisser, a radiologist at The Iowa Clinic’s West Des Moines Campus, about breast health and mammograms. She answered our questions and explained what a mammogram is and what to expect when you get one.
1. Why is it so important to not skip your mammogram this year?
Routine cancer screenings are down significantly since before the pandemic with many people canceling appointments. While it’s understandable that people are worried, it means many people are going without cancer screenings and missing potentially life- saving exams. Clinics and hospitals are taking careful safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so it is absolutely safe to come in for your cancer screening. In fact, it might just save your life, so it’s essential to make sure you don’t skip it.
2. When should women start getting mammograms and how often do they need them?
Women who are not at high risk of developing breast cancer should begin having mammograms at age 40, and get one yearly. Women of higher-than-average risk for breast cancer should start screening mammography before the age of 40 (this is variable based on why the patient is high risk and which criteria you use, but a good rule of thumb is about 30 years old) and add a screening MRI to their yearly surveillance. Although sometimes it is easy to determine if you are high risk, some women may be at elevated risk and not know due to many smaller risk factors combining.
Make sure you know your lifetime risk of developing breast malignancy by talking to your healthcare provider. You can also calculate your Tyrer-Cuzick score yourself online. A score of 20-25% lifetime risk is considered elevated.
3. Is there anything you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer?
While there’s no way to completely prevent breast cancer, the best thing you can do is get your annual screening. The earlier we can catch breast cancer, the better the chances of being able to successfully treat it. You can also perform regular self-exams and notify your doctor if you see or feel anything unusual.
About Dr. Rachel Preisser
Before Dr. Preisser goes to sleep at night, she takes a little notebook off her nightstand and jots down the cute things her toddler son did during the day. “Since he was born, my interests have been pretty child-centric,” she says. But Preisser also enjoys art and design. She likes to cook and entertain. And she’s passionate about sports and women’s health, which is why she obtained subspecialty training in musculoskeletal and breast imaging. She is the only radiologist in the metro area fellowship- trained in tomosynthesis imaging.