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Mary Anderson works to make a difference


October 26, 2019

At the 23rd Annual Duluth Breast Imaging Conference in early October, mammographer Mary Anderson was again inspired.

"The conference is really great for building you up and reminding you that this isn't just a job," she said.

"You are making a difference in women's lives. If that cancer is not imaged on the picture you took, the radiologist doesn't see it, and it gets missed."

Mary, who has been doing mammograms since 2006, talks passionately about her specialty.

"Their motto at this year's conference was 'Millimeters Matter!' They're really focused on positioning, making sure we're pulling that breast all the way across onto the imaging plate, and making sure that we're getting as far back as we possibly can," she said, highlighting that millimeters matter even with the new 3-D mammograms.

"People have been saying, 'Oh, we don't need quite as much compression.' Much to the opposite! Compression is still very important.

"They went over case studies and showed the same woman, same image - one with a little bit less compression and one with a little bit more compression - and there were things that showed up on the second picture that didn't show up on the first picture."

To Anderson, less compression could mean missing a possible lesion.

"There are many women who find it uncomfortable. But if we allow them to dictate how much compression we do get, we may be missing something for them," she said.

"So, it's important for us to educate those women and to slowly guide them through the process so hopefully we achieve more compression to get better imaging for them."

Anderson noted that a lot of tumors are close to the chest wall, and she recommends self-breast exams.

"It goes clear from the clavicle out to the armpits, down to just below your breast at the rib level and all the way to the sternum," she said.

"We also want women to know that they need to be more self breast aware. As far as a doctor, if they do a breast exam at their office, that doctor may see multiple different women. They only see you maybe once to every three years. They might not notice a change," she said. "Whereas, if you're doing a monthly exam on yourself, you're going to notice it before your doctor does.

"So, we really want women to be more involved in their own care, and checking and feeling and making sure that there are no changes," she said. "They're used to what their breasts feel like. A doctor may not catch something like that."

Mary adheres to a monthly self-breast exam schedule and recommends picking a certain time in the cycle and sticking to it.

"Do it the same time in the cycle each time because the hormones can fluctuate," she said. "You can do it while you're in the shower. It shouldn't take long, maybe five to ten minutes," she said.

Anderson wants women to be on their guard.

"At the conference this year, they stated that most breast cancers actually do not have any family history related to them. They're finding a lot more women that never had a family history. So, you don't have to have a family history to get breast cancer."

Mary emphasized the importance of women also being aware of their breast density, doing self-exams, and having their annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

"Forty percent of women, age 40 and over, have dense breasts, and cancer is four to six times more likely in women with extremely dense breasts than in women with fatty tissue," she said.


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