Kris Hemeyer conducts the mammograms in the Radiology Department at Hermann Area District Hospital (HADH). She says the hospital will conduct around 750 mammograms a year. Parts of this interview were published in the Oct. 31, 2018 edition of the Hermann Advertiser-Courier. This is an updated interview with Kris.
Knowing the incidence of breast cancer, where one in eight women will get breast cancer, how is it that more women don’t get mammograms?
Kris: I think some women are afraid of results. Some that have never had a mammogram think it might hurt. It really doesn’t, and it’s a quick exam, taking about 10 minutes. Some women have sore breasts, so for them, it can be painful, since the test compresses the breast. We try to accommodate these women—we want it to be tolerable so they’ll come back.
Who looks at the digital photos?
Kris: We look at them to make sure we have adequate tissue, but the radiologist reads it, usually the same day, if we have their prior mammogram information. The doctor can see if there have been any changes from previous years.
Results are mailed out that evening or the next day. Sometimes we have to call other facilities to get the patient’s prior mammogram information and that can take more time.
Have mammogram machines changed in any way?
Kris: There are now 3-D breast tomosynthesis machines that are out there that are real good at finding small cancers. They are great for women with dense breast tissue. Mercy hospital in Washington has a 3-D “tomo” machine. Some insurance has not been paying for the 3-D exam, but as of Jan. 1 of this year, all insurance was mandated to cover the procedure. HADH is looking into getting one within the next year or so.
(Editor’s note: Currently, about 70 percent of women 40 years and older receive regular mammograms according to komen.org.
“Ninety-five percent of new cases and 97 percent of breast cancer deaths occur in women aged 40 and older. At this time, there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer for women who are at average risk, which is why screening by mammography, clinic breast examination and breast self-examination is so important.” —health.mo.gov)
When should a woman get a mammogram?
Kris: There was some confusion last year about when to have mammograms, but the guidelines haven’t changed. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends regular mammogram screening, starting between the ages of 40-44. Our radiologists follow the original guidelines—get a baseline and then come every year. If you have a family history for breast cancer (high risk) you should start earlier. If your mother had breast cancer at age 40, you should start 10 years earlier, so you should start regular mammograms at age 30. The idea is to catch something early—your treatment options are better.
(Additional editor’s note from ACS: Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.)
How much does a mammogram cost?
Kris: A little over $200. Insurance should cover the cost—every year. For the uninsured, the Gasconade County Health Department may be able to help as a resource to find funding and free mammograms are sometimes given away, such as at the Crusade for Cancer. The Hermann Hospital (HADH) will work out financial details with women that want to receive a mammogram, but can’t afford the upfront cost.
Is the Radiology Department at HADH accredited?
Kris: We are accredited by the American College of Radiology—most mammography facilities are. We are certified by the FDA and get annual inspections to make sure we produce good imaging so nothing (within the equipment’s capability) gets missed.
What’s the next step if a person receives information regarding an abnormal finding?
Kris: You’ll need to come back for a diagnostic mammogram, that may include special imaging and/or an ultrasound. Then we may conduct a biopsy (take a tissue sample), either here with Dr. Swayze or the person can go to another facility.
What about men?
Kris: If a man feels a lump, they need to come in—there are male mammograms.
So, you would frame HADH as the front line for breast health.
Kris: Absolutely. If you don’t get your screenings every year and you’ve developed a cancer, that thing has had a whole year to fester. Get your routine screenings. You don’t need a doctor’s order to get a mammogram, but we will need to send the results to a physician. The question I get all the time from older patients is “When can I stop getting mammograms?” The answer is never. No doctor will ever tell you to stop getting mammograms.