When it comes to the fight against cancer, early detection is the key, and the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women 40 and older, with a base mammogram at around age 35.
Jackie Schultz has been a performing mammograms at Eastern Niagara Hospital’s Newfane site for about 15 years, and she wants women to know that mammograms really do save lives.
“Every time I do a mammogram, I give a homework assignment. I tell the women when they leave to go out and tell other women to get a mammogram — that it’s not that bad,” Schultz said.
In fact, Schultz said it’s something that can easily be completed on a lunch hour.
A prescription is required, and once registered, the woman goes into the mammography room.
At ENH Newfane, there is just one room with the mammography machine and a separate, connected dressing room. After removing their shirt and bra, women are given a gown and Schultz sits them down and asks them some questions. Once that’s complete, it’s time for the mammogram.
Four images are required — two of each breast. Women place their breast on a plate on the machine, and another plate comes down and compresses the breast tissue — spreading it out so that any irregularity can be detected.
Schultz stays in the room the entire time chatting with the woman to make sure that everything is going smoothly.
The woman spends only about six to eight minutes on the machine.
According to Schultz, the compression is what what women fear most, but it’s very important.
“If the breast isn’t compressed properly, the image won’t be as good, so it’s better to be uncomfortable for a few minutes than to have the test not find something,” Schultz said.
“When someone comes in who has never had a mammogram before, I tell them, ‘If this is the worst pain you have to endure in a year, you’re very lucky.’ Most women find out that it’s not nearly as bad as all the horror stories they’ve heard,” Schultz said.
When it comes to breast cancer, there are three important diagnostic procedures for women, Schultz says — a monthly breast self-exam, a clinical breast exam done by a doctor and an annual mammogram.
If a woman notices any changes in her breasts, such as a skin problem or changes in a nipple or nipple discharge, she should schedule a mammogram immediately.
What about women who use the excuse that they aren’t having any problems or they’re afraid of finding out they have cancer?
“I always say the same thing. Everybody is afraid of cancer. The mammogram can detect a tiny calcification in the breast tissue. This test isn’t going to give you cancer, it’s only going to find it — and wouldn’t you rather find it when it’s just a tiny cell … than after it’s spread to your spine or your liver or your brain?” Schultz said.
And although the test does involve an x-ray of the breast, there is minimal radiation — not more than you’d get “just sitting in front of your computer.”
Schultz said she believes it’s important that the person performing the mammogram have a good rapport with their patient.
“It takes a special person to do this … it’s a very intimate test. I know my patients and they know me. I love my job,” Schultz said.