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Stay abreast of regular mammograms – it could save your life

To raise awareness around Breast Cancer, we highlight the importance of regular mammogram screenings to help improve the survival rate. Here, we shine the spotlight on three healthcare professionals who have united to fight breast cancer - the most common cancer globally.

“Having a screening mammogram can feel daunting but it should rather be seen as a vital component of regular health screenings that can help to prolong or even save your life by detecting cancer early,” says Dr Heleen Hanekom, a radiologist with special interest in breast imaging, who practises at Netcare Unitas Hospital as part of Drs Burger Radiologists Incorporated.

Dr Hanekom, together with clinical and radiation oncologist Dr Rouchelle Marais and specialist breast surgeon Dr Lucienne van Schalkwyk are specialists who are passionate about prioritising breast health and making the journey of breast cancer treatment as less intimidating and effective as possible. Together, they have put this into practice by establishing a dedicated breast care team at Netcare Unitas Hospital.

Why mammograms?

“Mammography remains the best screening option for women as it is the only method of breast imaging that has consistently been shown to improve breast cancer mortality rates,” says Dr Hanekom .

“Monthly breast self-examination is also important, however with regular mammograms, ideally annually, we can detect breast cancer at the earliest possible opportunity, often before it is palpable.”

Dr Van Schalkwyk adds that the earlier breast cancer is identified, the more options are available to manage the condition. “Some women report procrastinating about having a mammogram because they have experienced discomfort in the past, however the risk is simply too great for women over the age of 40 for regular mammograms to be ignored or postponed,” she says.

Seven tips for a more comfortable mammogram

Most women find mammograms somewhat uncomfortable, but here’s what you can do if you found it more painful:

1. Try not to schedule your mammogram during, or in the week leading up to your period when your breasts may be swollen and uncomfortable.

2. Ask your family doctor about options for safe over the counter pain relief, and take it about an hour before your appointment.

3. Having moral support at the appointment can help to reduce anxiety, take a friend or loved one with you.

4. Try to relax, take deep breaths and use mindfulness techniques to help you remain calm before and during your mammogram.

5. Keep your body and feet turned towards the mammogram machine to avoid pinching, as well as neck and back discomfort.

6. Mammograms can be performed while you are seated, if you are unable to stand or are uncomfortable standing.

7. If you experience discomfort at any time during the positioning for the mammogram, let the radiographer know as they may be able to make small adjustments to make you feel more comfortable.

Taking the ‘What if’s’ together

“Taking care of your breast health is a necessary part of your health routine, and regular mammograms are recommended for all women from the age of 40 onwards. Your doctor can guide you as to how often you should be screened. If something is detected that requires further investigation, there is so much more that can be done today to treat breast cancer. The earlier a lesion is identified, the more treatment options there are available,” says Dr Van Schalkwyk.

“Almost the entire team are women, and we understand that screening, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer can be very daunting so we have made the environment as supportive as possible for the patients we serve,” she says.

The dedicated breast cancer team established at Netcare Unitas Hospital has a multidisciplinary approach to treating breast cancer, and the care provided is aligned with international best practice guidelines. This may include more specialised imaging or image guided biopsy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination.

“Each patient is a key member of the treatment team along with the medical specialists from various disciplines. Multidisciplinary care ensures that treatment decisions can be reached without wasting the patient’s time or money, treatment progress can be monitored and the plan can be revised if needed,” adds Dr Van Schalkwyk.

Awareness and regular mammograms can go a long way to minimising the impact of breast cancer on individuals, families and society. Stay abreast of your health screenings, as a few minutes can bring you great peace of mind.”

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