Breast Cancer Awareness Month focuses on early detection

 If you are like most Americans, there is at least one woman in your life who has been affected by breast cancer—a mother, sister, coworker, acquaintance or close friend.  In the United States it is estimated that there will be nearly 213,000 new cases of female invasive breast cancer during 2008. Experts predict almost 41,000 deaths from the disease.

But the good news is that the number of women who obtain breast mammograms has doubled since National Breast Cancer Awareness Month began over twenty years ago, and now the death rates from breast cancer have declined, mostly due to earlier detection and improved treatment.    

As the nation sets aside the month of October to focus awareness on breast cancer, Nancy Hughes, a resident of Rhea County, will be remembering her own survival story.     Hughes, who has been cancer-free for ten years, says she owes her life to early detection.    

"I found a spot that I was concerned about," she said. "I immediately got a mammogram, which showed I had a problem…I cannot stress how important it is for every woman to get herself checked."    

Mammography screenings are a woman's best chance for detecting breast cancer early. All women over 40 should have an annual screening, as should those who have an increased risk of getting breast cancer.    

According to Edie Shaver, lead mammographer at Rhea Medical Center, more and more women are realizing the importance of this annual test.    

"These days, women are much more educated about the prevalence of breast cancer and the importance of getting a mammogram," said Shaver. However, there are still some misconceptions about breast cancer, she added.

"A lot of women think that because they have passed menopause that they are no longer at risk for breast cancer. That's simply not true. In fact, a person's risk for getting cancer actually increases every year up until the age of 79. Simply put, if you are a woman over 40 with breasts, you are at risk."

Going in for your first mammogram may seem a little intimidating at first, but Shaver says that the radiology staff will counsel women on any concerns they may have about a screening or its results prior to the mammogram. Patients can be confident knowing that the facilities and equipment at Rhea Medical Center are as good as any in the region.

"Some people think that mammograms are painful, but with the new equipment, they really aren't,"  said Shaver. "With this machine, compression is no longer painful and the whole process is quick and easy."

In addition to regular office hours, Rhea Medical Center offers after-hours appointments for women wishing to get a mammogram without taking time off from work. The evening schedule is available Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

In the spirit of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Shaver recommends reminding a friend or loved one to get a mammogram. That little nudge might end up saving her life.

Call 775-8636 to make an appointment for a mammogram. For more information about breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at