Dr. Saravanan shares critical screening advice for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Arthy Saravanan, a breast-screening radiologist with ARA Diagnostic Imaging, shares critical screening advice with KEYE-TV’s Trevor Scott on CBS Austin’s ‘We Are Austin.’
(Trevor Scott) Welcome back to “We Are Austin.” October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s really a great time to maybe learn more about the importance of annual mammograms. Dr. Arthy Saravanan is joining us this morning, a breast imaging radiologist with ARA Diagnostic Imaging, to share a little bit more about really this crucial screening and some of the tools you have at your disposal to make it pretty easy.
Good morning to you. It’s great to see you.
(Dr. Arthy Saravanan) Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here.
(Trevor) Well, and this is such important information. I don’t think we can say it enough. What did they say? We beat that drum for screenings, especially in October. It’s a good time to do it. Let’s kind of start with how things are going, Dr. Saravanan, there at ARA.
(Dr. Saravanan) Well, Trevor, it’s very, very busy. We’re actually doing a lot of mammograms. Everyone is catching up from last year when a lot of women put off their mammograms due to COVID restrictions and hesitations, generally about going about their normal business. So, we’re seeing a lot of Austin area women calling and scheduling online, coming in for their screening mammograms. We are busy, but we’re relieved as well to see people getting their screenings. And we really do urge anyone who’s put off their mammograms for any reason to go ahead and get that scheduled.
(Trevor) Absolutely. And it’s interesting to hear that the side effect of the pandemic is kind of having on people scheduling these really important screenings, but I’m glad to hear everybody’s getting caught up and it is important. Remind us why getting your mammogram really is so important.
(Dr. Saravanan) It’s so important that women get screened for breast cancer because catching cancer early allows for much better outcomes. You know, in fact, one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Since 1990, though, the death rate from cancer has declined by at least 38%. And much of this is attributed to early detection by mammography. In fact, 98% of women survive breast cancer, when it’s caught early by a mammogram. Self-checks and breast exams are very important, but a mammogram can find cancer before you can even feel it.
(Trevor) That data is really surprising and enlightening. It’s wonderful to hear how effective mammograms can be at that future treatment. When should women start getting mammograms? What’s a good rule of thumb?
(Dr. Saravanan) Yeah, Trevor, according to the American College of Radiology, they recommend that women start getting screens at the age of 40 and yearly thereafter. You know, research has shown that women who get mammograms every year are more likely to have smaller, more treatable cancers than women who get mammograms every other year. In fact, 76% of cancers are detected in women who have a mammogram every year. And these cancers are early-stage versus only 56 percent of cancers, in women who have mammograms every other year.
(Trevor) Wow. Oh, that’s fascinating information. You’ve got a wealth of great data to really support this today. I’m curious, are there women who should start screening before the age of 40 that you mentioned?
(Dr. Saravanan) We do strongly encourage women to talk to their doctors as early as in their twenties to do an assessment of their breast health and overall health history and family history. In some cases, the doctor may want to have the patient tested early for genetic factors. And sometimes, they’ll recommend to start screening as early as the age of 30.
(Trevor) It’s good to know that there are some exceptions to that rule. They’re very interesting. You know, we were talking a little bit about the effects of COVID and the pandemic on screening rates. Are there other things that women should be aware about concerning COVID and mammography?
(Dr. Saravanan) Yeah, good question. You know, sometimes the breast imagers, what we’ve noticed is that patients who have had COVID-19 vaccine, sometimes will develop swollen lymph nodes under their arm, especially on the side of their injection. So this is not a cause for alarm, it’s just a normal reaction to the vaccine, but swollen lymph nodes can also be seen with breast cancer. So we often need to bring them back for a second screening to be sure that they don’t have cancer.
It’s a good idea to wait about four weeks after getting your COVID vaccine to get your mammogram, just to make sure that we can reduce these false-positive results. It may also be true for any upcoming booster shots, but we don’t have any robust data on that, as yet. It’s the same – It applies to anyone who gets treatment for cancer or those who’ve had cancer. We suggest that you get your vaccine in the arm opposite to the side of your body, where your cancer was diagnosed. This can again, help reduce the need for further imaging.
(Trevor) Wow, that is really valuable information. You know, I know the question that women sometimes have are issues about breast density and mammography. Can you give us a little bit of info on that? Is that common or a general thing?
(Dr. Saravanan) Absolutely. So, dense breast tissue is very common. It just simply means that you have more glandular and connective tissue in your breasts than fatty tissue. It is a normal condition, but it does make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram. Often women with dense breast tissue, they’re asked to come back to get a second screening, usually with ultrasound or MRI, just to help to see through this dense breast tissue.
(Trevor) How would a woman know, a patient know, if they do have that dense breast tissue?
(Dr. Saravanan) Yeah, so the radiologist here at ARA, when we look at your mammogram, we’ll assess your breast tissue density, and we’ll put that in the status of the letter that we send to you from ARA. Then, the patient can talk to their doctor about their breast tissue density and make an appropriate plan. Usually, when you get your mammography report, you will be placed into one of four categories for breast tissue density.
The first one is almost entirely fatty, which means that the breast consists mainly of fat tissue.
The second category is scattered fibroglandular tissue, which means that the large portion of the breast consists of fat tissue, but there are a few areas of these dense, glandular, and connective tissue.
The third category is heterogeneously dense tissue, which means that the breast has more glandular and connective tissue than fat tissue.
And the last category is extremely dense, which means that the breast is mostly composed of this glandular and connective tissue.
So on a mammogram, the fat actually appears black while the glandular and connective tissue appears white. So this can obscure some of the features in the breast. When women have extremely dense breast tissue, doctors often recommend additional screening.
(Trevor) That is terrific information to know, and we’ve had so much great information in this segment, but since it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month here in October, do you have something that you could tell women at home that you would say is the most important thing that they should know, about breast cancer and getting those mammograms?
(Dr. Saravanan) Absolutely. I think the one thing to keep in mind is that breast cancer is more survivable today than it has ever been before. And this is only because of early detection with a mammogram when it’s very small before it can even be felt by the patient and we can start treatment early. So early detection is the key factor. Also, I know COVID has set us all back a bit, but if you did miss your screening mammogram, please go online at ausrad.com or give us a call and we can help you schedule.
(Trevor) That is important to know, early detection, early detection, early detection!
(Dr. Saravanan) That’s right.
(Trevor) It seems to be the important thing, Dr. Saravanan, and you are so great at spelling all of this information out and taking a little bit of the anxiety and apprehension out of this issue. It’s really important. Remind us one more time where viewers can go to get started on getting that screening mammogram scheduled.
(Dr. Saravanan) So you can go to our website online at ausrad.com and schedule from there. You can also call our scheduling number which is on the screen and we can help you take care of that.
(Trevor) Excellent, Dr. Saravanan. And thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it. We’ll see you soon, thank you.
(Dr. Saravanan) Thank you, Trevor.
(Trevor) Our pleasure. Stay right there, friends. There’s more “We Are Austin” coming right up.