CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A new report praises the benefits of mammography in detecting breast cancer. A lack of access to screenings remains a big hurdle. New detection tools are on the horizon.
When Gill Hare moved to Chapel Hill from Great Britain, the first thing her doctor recommended was a mammogram. Hare was 41 years old. In the U.K., women do not get mammograms until age 50.
"I thought, well, it's just one of the differences of being in America. So I thought, 'Let's go for it. Let's get screened,'" she said.
During the screening, doctors found a small tumor, about 2 mm in size.
"Two millimeters is about as small as we can find them," said Dr. Etta Pisano, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Pisano says Hare is lucky her cancer was caught so early.
According to a new report Pisano co-authored, 40,000 women will die this year from breast cancer. The report analyzed where we are in detecting the disease.
According to Pisano, mammograms remain the best tool for detecting breast cancer and will be for quite a while. She says there is also room for improvement.
"What we did find is we need to start implementing what we have a lot better," Pisano said.
That includes making it easier for women to get screened.
"Some of which is because women don't have insurance or that their doctors don't recommend it. In addition, we're having a crisis in mammography access because radiologists are leaving mammography," Pisano said.
The report also highlights new technologies in the pipeline. There are some, but not enough. Researchers hope they will soon have better tests to offer high-risk women.
"They're not just going to get a mammography every year, but maybe they could get mammography and ultrasound or mammography ultrasound and MRI," Pisano said.
Gill Hare does not like to think what could have happened if she would have waited until she was 50 to get a mammogram.
"I don't think about it a whole lot. I've moved on," she said.
Hare says she is happy it was caught in time and that she is now cancer-free.
The report is a joint effort between the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. To alleviate the shortage of radiologist and screening centers, the group recommends training non-physicians to pre-screen mammograms.
Pisano also hopes that within the next five years there will be a blood test to better determine a woman's risk of breast cancer.