A British study published this year that questions the usefulness of annual screening mammography for women age 40–59 doesn’t take the latest technology into account, says Jason Marengo, M.D., oncoplastic surgeon at NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield.
The randomized study began enrolling patients in 1980, and followed their course for an average of 21.9 years. The authors’ conclusion was that undergoing an annual mammogram did not improve women’s survival from breast cancer any more than a physical exam alone. “Many of the mammograms performed during this study were done before the era of digital mammography,” says Dr. Marengo. “In the past 10 years, women have benefited greatly from the added contrast and detailed image provided by digital mammography. This has been particularly true with patients who have denser breasts.”
Digital mammography actually improves detection of cancer in dense breast tissue by up to 70 percent, says Dr. Marengo, noting that as women age, their breasts usually become less dense. Mammography has been found in multiple studies to be an effective tool to screen women at risk and improve their survival from breast cancer. High quality mammography, on average, is able to detect breast cancers significantly smaller than what can be detected by a physical exam performed by a clinician or a patient.
“Finding breast cancer at an earlier stage and size using mammography not only has a survival advantage. A smaller cancer may require less radical treatment,” explains Dr. Marengo.
Cancer Center Launches Survivorship Program
The NorthBay Cancer Center has been giving its patients the STAR treatment since May 2014, in collaboration with a national program. Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation, or STAR, ensures cancer patients receive quality care long after initial life-saving treatments have ended.
“After a cancer diagnosis and treatment, patients have to learn to live with a ‘new normal,'” explains Brad Gould, service line director for Cardiovascular and Oncology Services. “For many, that ‘new normal’ may mean dealing with the after-effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, memory loss, anxiety and depression.”
Patients are referred to the STAR Program by their NorthBay oncologists, whether they are in remission, living with cancer or cured. A survivorship plan is created to improve their daily function and well-being.
“We’ve always provided post-cancer treatment care,” Brad stresses, “but the STAR program is a true survivorship plan. We follow our patients for months, even years after their treatment.”