From Our Experts  |  November 11, 2020  |  Susan Kennedy, MD

Don’t Put Off Your Screening Mammogram Because of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has surely forced a lot of adjustments. Many of us are not gathering with our families this holiday season. We’re all staying home more than ever. Going to work looks different for many of us. Many schools remain online. 

You may also have adjusted health appointments and put off routine well checks. With all of the changes we’ve had to make, one thing you shouldn’t postpone or cancel is your screening mammogram.

Early detection is still the key.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the US and is the second leading cause of death (behind heart disease) according to the American Cancer Society. One in eight women will develop breast cancer.

Early breast cancer detection often brings more treatment options, increased survival and improved quality of life.

Mammograms save lives.

Screenings don’t prevent breast cancer, but they do allow radiologists to detect abnormalities at the earliest possible stage. “3D mammograms provide greater clarity and detail that allow radiologists to better see through breast tissue,” said Dr. Susan Kennedy, a breast imaging expert at Wake Radiology UNC REX Healthcare. “A 3D mammogram only takes a few additional seconds and can improve breast cancer detection by 27-50% over traditional mammography.”

As we realize that COVID-19 will be with us for quite some time, many healthcare organizations are now recommending that women continue with their annual exam. “As long as you’re not feeling sick or having any COVID-19 symptoms, we believe it’s safe and important to have your screening mammogram,” says Dr. Kennedy.

For most women, mammograms should start at 40.

Both the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society for Breast (SBI) Imaging recommend that all women 25 and older have a formal risk assessment for breast cancer with their primary care doctor. 

“Understanding your breast health is useful in determining your risk for breast cancer,” said Dr. Kennedy, “but that’s not the same as detection. A 3D screening mammogram remains our best tool for finding breast cancer.” 

For women at an average risk, the ACR and SBI recommend screening mammograms starting at 40. Cancers grow at different rates. That’s why annual 3D screening is more useful in early detection.

It’s safe to get a mammogram now.

Like many healthcare providers, outpatient imaging offices, like WakeRad UNC REX, have stepped up precautions to limit interactions and keep patients safe. 

“We’ve always thoroughly cleaned our mammogram machines between every patient, that’s our standard practice,” shared Dr. Kennedy. “We have spaced out patients and added additional office-wide disinfecting throughout the day to ensure that our patients and staff are safe.”

Healthy women coming in for an annual mammogram should expect increased safety guidelines.

  • Health screenings for travel and  COVID-19 risk factors.
  • More time between appointments to reduce patient interactions. Pre-registered patients can also wait in their cars until it’s time to come inside. Even with increased protocols, WakeRad UNC REX patients can still expect their 3D screening mammogram to take 30 minutes or less.
  • All patients and mammography technologists will wear masks in the office and throughout the exam.
  • At WakeRad UNC REX, all cloth gowns used for mammogram patients come sealed in individual plastic bags and are professionally cleaned off-site.

Schedule your mammogram today.

“We encourage healthy women to maintain their mammogram even during the pandemic,” said Dr. Kennedy. “Our WakeRad UNC REX offices are working hard to keep our patients and our team safe. Our commitment to quality imaging and safety standards is how we’ve been able to maintain uninterrupted certification by the FDA and accreditations by the ACR.”

As women continue with their annual mammograms, do play it smart and stay home if you’re sick. If you think you have COVID symptoms, contact your primary care doctor and re-schedule your mammogram for when you’re feeling better. Breast cancer won’t wait until the pandemic ends. You shouldn’t either.

About Our Expert

Dr. Susan Kennedy
Susan L. Kennedy, MD — Dr. Susan Kennedy joined the practice in 1996. She is a breast imaging radiologist with special clinical interests in mammography. Learn More...

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