Several years ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced publically that the long held medical practice of women aged 40 and older getting a yearly mammogram should change. The group said that every two years would be just as effective.
But that recommendation did not sit well with Dr. Janine Dodds and she let her colleagues and patients know her professional opinion about the new suggestion.
“A yearly mammogram has always been my recommendation and will continue to be,” she said.
“To me the scariest part is that in that the younger group of people, ages 40 to 50, breast cancer is less common in that age group, but when you do find it, those cancers tend to be aggressive, because those patients are young and most are pre-menopausal. Those are the ones that are the bad cancers. These are the young ladies. These are the moms. If those people were coming every other year and we didn’t find the cancer for two years, you can imagine how much a cancer could potentially grow in that period of time.
“We’ve saved a lot of people doing mammograms yearly and I just can’t see why that should change.”
Dodds is a radiologist and on the staff at East Georgia Regional Medical Center. She is the Director of Women's Imaging for Statesboro Imaging Center.
Since she arrived in Statesboro in 2008, Dodds said she has seen significant improvements in technology and other diagnostic procedures that have helped women find breast cancers earlier and, if they are diagnosed with cancer, increased their chances of successfully treating the disease.
“When I first got here, we just had plain film mammography and ultrasound,” she said. “They would actually take standard pictures of the breast tissue and then have to develop the film and hang that up on a viewer.”
But once the hospital acquired the Statesboro Imaging Center in 2012, 3D mammography was introduced and that has vastly improved not only early detection of potential cancers, but also the ability to determine something isn’t possibly cancerous.
“(3D) Mammography has been huge and makes our job easier in helping patients,” Dodds said. “After taking an image, with 3D I can actually scroll though the images of the breast tissue from the underside to the upper side. It can unmask things in dense breasts you may not have seen without that technology.
“Screening is a tool where we want to catch breast cancers early. You don’t want it to get to the point where you feel something. You want one of us to find it before it ever gets to become conspicuous.”
The 3D technology also often save patients time and worry.
“Having a 3D image prevents you from calling people back for additional imaging in a lot of cases because you have the ability to see through an image completely,” she said. “What might have looked like a nodule on a 2D picture, if you can safely say that you are not seeing that nodule on a 3D image, then a patient doesn’t need to come back for additional imaging. It eliminates an anxiety-riddled visit back to the mammography center.”
Like the rest of the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Imaging Center significantly when shut downs started in March.
“We closed the center for a while,” Dodds said. “The only thing we were doing was a diagnostic mammograms for patients who had a real problem. And we only did that one day a week.”
Dodds said the shutdown did create a backlog of mammogram appointments, along with patients being concerned about coming to the office.
“People for a long time were reluctant to come in for a procedure that was non-emergent to them,” Dodds said. “But we have extended into some evening hours and there are some Saturday appointments to get people caught back up.”
While Dodds doesn’t foresee any huge leaps in technology in the near future in helping with the detection of breast cancer, she believes the imaging center and the hospital will continue to be patient-centric and always strive to find ways to improve patient experience and care.
“We have worked to acquire a certification from the American College of Radiology, which means we are a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence,” Dodds said. “You have to go through a thorough application process. I understand we are the second smallest city in Georgia to have that certification. That’s the kind of dedicated physicians, technicians and staff we have.”
Dodds again emphasized the importance of getting a yearly mammogram.
“We always go by the American College of Radiology recommendations and also the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Surgeons and they all recommend yearly mammograms starting at the age of 40.
“A large majority of the cancers we detect are small, stage 0. It’s not invasive. Or stage 1. Finding cancers early is exactly what we want to do.”