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Centegra breast cancer experts stress importance of annual mammograms

Sarah Nader-
Misty Thillen of Trevor, Wis. talks with her radiologist, Dr. Kevin Morley, at the Centegra Gavers Brest Center in Crystal Lake Thursday, August 21, 2014.
Sarah Nader- Misty Thillen of Trevor, Wis. talks with her radiologist, Dr. Kevin Morley, at the Centegra Gavers Brest Center in Crystal Lake Thursday, August 21, 2014.

CRYSTAL LAKE – A message about breast cancer prevention from Centegra Health System’s director of medical imaging was simple and to the point.

“Every woman over 40 should get a mammogram every year. Period,” John Heinrich said, days before the start of breast cancer awareness month. “And that’s per the American Cancer Society.”

For more than four years, mammograms and other such services have been available to McHenry County women at Centegra Gavers Breast Center, 360 N. Terra Cotta Road in Crystal Lake.

Heinrich said mammograms are still done at individual Centegra hospitals, but Gavers Breast Center has become a convenient hub for patients who need general screenings, as well as follow-up diagnostics and support.

The center has facilitated nearly 40,000 exams since its 2010 opening.

That includes screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasounds, breast MRIs and stereotactic biopsies, which are done through X-ray.

The use of these various exams will vary based on each individual case, but Heinrich stressed general screenings for all women 40 and older are ever-important as he’s noticed a fairly troubling trend in breast cancer diagnostics.

“What we’re finding is a lot of patients diagnosed younger are later stage,” he said. “We think part of the reason is patients aren’t coming in for annual mammograms.”

Heinrich said patients have noted insurance issues as reasons to pass on yearly exams. Some women, he added, also perceive biannual exams to be sufficient.

However, breast health navigator at the center Lynn Griesmaier said subtle changes from year to year can make all the difference.

“Screenings really allow the patient and radiologist to get the best possible outcome,” Griesmaier said. “The reason we screen is to detect subtle changes and with the technology we have now, we can pick up on things very easily.”

Along with a breast MRI machine, the center last year became capable of digital tomosynthesis, which creates a 3D picture of the breast, potentially making abnormalities more visible.

Nationally, the mammography rate among women 40 and older has increased substantially since 1987 when it was only 29 percent. However, it fell slightly from 70 percent in 2000 to 67 percent between 2005 and 2010.

Most doctors feel early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

In an effort to highlight the importance of screenings locally, Gavers Breast Center hosts weekly events called Mammo Mondays, during which a variety of screenings are offered.

“There are giveaways, bra fittings,” Heinrich said. “It’s sort of a social event.”

More than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and about 40,000 women will die from it in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, the death rates from breast cancer have been on the decline since 1989, according to the American Cancer Society, and the decrease is believed to stem, in part, from earlier detection through screenings.

Whether at Gavers Breast Center, a hospital or another area facility, Griesmaier said the point is to get screened.

“Don’t take a chance,” she said. “The reality of it is that 15 minutes could be so beneficial for them.”

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