Diagnosis and Screening
Breast cancer is a common condition that is often curable, especially with early detection. The Breast Health Center at Marin General Hospital offers a comprehensive range of diagnostic techniques that put us at the forefront of cancer care. For most American women over 40, mammography is a standard component of her annual checkup. Many women have experienced the feeling of relief that comes from hearing the news that their mammogram was free of “suspicious areas.” Unfortunately, not all women have the same degree of cancer risk. Routine surveillance is not enough for women with hereditary risk factors for breast cancer. While just 5-10 percent of breast and ovarian cancers are caused by genetic predisposition, the risks are significant. For these women, fortunately we have developed our High Risk Breast Program.
Digital mammography is an advanced technique that reduces x-ray exposure and can improve cancer detection in certain cases. The Breast Health Center at Marin General Hospital was first in the Bay Area to implement this technology and has been using it routinely for several years. Images are captured instantly and can immediately be viewed on a computer monitor. The radiologist has the ability to manipulate the digital image by zooming in and examining small areas of breast tissue in detail. This is especially useful when screening women under the age of 50 and/or women with dense breasts. Computer-assisted diagnosis (CAD) provides the radiologist with “a second pair of eyes”—a computer analysis of the results. We use CAD for all screening mammograms, an uncompromising approach that continues to yield excellent detection rates (5.6 per 1,000 women in 2011) on par with those of top university hospitals.
Breast MRI's may be used in addition to mammography as a screening tool for women at high-risk of developing breast cancer. These scans provide a more detailed view of the breast and are often used to evaluate the extent of disease prior to surgery, minimizing the need for secondary treatment.
A Compassionate Approach
When a woman has a lump in her breast, or her mammogram detects a suspicious area, the next step is diagnostic testing. We understand this can be frightening, so we do all we can to expedite the process. If something turns up on a mammogram, we notify the patient within 48 hours. If appropriate, the patient is introduced to our on-site patient navigator, who can answer questions in detail and provide information and support.
Biopsies and Diagnostic Testing
Biopsies are procedures that extract a small bit of tissue for microscopic testing to determine whether a lump or abnormality is benign or malignant. These procedures are usually performed in an outpatient setting, using minimally invasive techniques. If a woman’s mammogram indicates a suspicious area, we can turn to a variety of biopsies and other diagnostic technologies when appropriate, including the following:
- Fine-needle biopsy
- Stereotactic needle breast biopsy
- Sentinel node biopsy
- Expert cytopathology
- Breast ultrasound
- Breast MRI
Click here for information on financial assistance through our, "To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation" grant.
USPSTF Guidelines Threaten Mammography Access
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recently proposed new guidelines for breast cancer screening recommendations. The new guidelines may limit access to mammography for 22 million women between the ages of 40 and 49. By assigning breast cancer screening a “C” grade for women under 50, insurance companies will no longer be required to offer screenings without a copay, which was previously guaranteed by the affordable Care Act. Adoption of these guidelines could result in thousands of additional and unnecessary breast cancer deaths each year. Thousands of more women may experience more extensive and expensive treatments than if their cancers were found earlier by screening mammograms.