This month marks Breast Cancer Awareness month, which means bringing awareness to this disease in order to help women everywhere diagnose, treat and fight breast cancer.
With more advancements in breast cancer screening technology, there is a growing need for mammograms, especially in younger women. Studies have shown that breast cancers in younger women may grow longer before being found by a screening mammogram. Still, annual screening mammograms starting at age 40 are the best way to diagnose breast cancer early, when it's most treatable.
Growing Need For Breast Cancer Screening Means More Jobs in Radiology
3-D mammograms are making headway
For years, breast cancer screening has been synonymous with mammograms, but screenings are starting to add another layer to the equation. 3-D mammograms (tomosynthesis) are new tech in screening that have helped improve the quality of breast imaging. Instead of the standard two views of the breast, 3-D mammogram technology show radiologists a view of the breast from many angles, with clearer quality and easier abnormality detection. This is helpful for women with thicker tissue, aka dense breasts, that are harder to examine, putting them at higher risk for cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 50 percent of women age 40 and older have dense breasts. You can download the dense breast guide from the National Breast Cancer Foundation to find out more. 3-D mammograms can improve breast cancer detection by 40 percent.
Genetics play a part, but not the whole
Risk for breast cancer is measured with testing for mutations in the BRCA genes. Abnormalities in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are associated with breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 72 percent of women with a BRCA1 gene mutation and 69 percent of women with a BRCA2 gene mutation will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. And while genetics are an important part of breast cancer risk, the facts show only 5-10 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are related to genetics. Which is why screening is still important to track breast abnormalities, even without mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.
There is an increased risk for African American women
In 2018, the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) were the first to recognize that black women have an increased risk of breast cancer. Both say updating the standards for breast cancer screening can help detect breast cancer earlier, giving women a higher chance of successful treatment options:
- All women, especially African American women, should be evaluated for breast cancer risk no later than age 30
- All women who are not at risk should begin annual breast cancer screenings starting at age 40
- Breast MRI is recommended for women with a history of breast cancer and dense tissue or those that have been diagnosed by age 50
- Women who have undergone chest radiation therapy should begin screenings at age 25 or 8 years after radiation therapy—whichever is later
- Women with genetics-based increased risk or a calculated lifetime risk of 20% or more should begin annual screenings at age 30
- The revised guidelines for African American women point to an increased risk of being diagnosed with aggressive “triple-negative” breast tumors
“Since 1990, breast cancer death rates dropped 23 percent in African-American women—approximately half that in whites,” said Wendy B. DeMartini, MD, President of the SBI, in the organization’s statement. “We changed our approach to help save more African-American women and others at higher risk from this deadly disease.”
As an additional reminder, women shouldn’t put off their annual mammogram appointments due to COVID-19. While screenings don’t prevent breast cancer, they do help radiologists identify breast abnormalities earlier. “3D mammograms provide greater clarity and detail that allow radiologists to better see through breast tissue,” said Dr. Susan Kennedy, a breast imaging expert at Wake Radiology UNC REX Healthcare. “A 3D mammogram only takes a few additional seconds and can improve breast cancer detection by 27-50% over traditional mammography.”
We need more traveling rad techs to help with screenings
All of these compounding facts added to the increased ways to screen and prevent breast cancer means more women starting at a younger age need annual mammograms. And because of the demand for more screenings, we need more traveling rad techs to help screen, identify and offer the widest range of treatment options at the earliest sign of detection. Medical imaging has become essential today in diagnosing illnesses. Nearly every health care provider, regardless of specialty, relies on radiology technologists to produce high-quality medical imaging for their patients. Rad techs are vital, with their experience and expertise to create the images and provide the best result for patients. As the need for breast cancer screening increases, more healthcare professionals working in radiology are needed as well. If you’re a rad tech traveler looking for a new assignment, search our available radiology jobs.