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It's Time to #AskHer

October 21, 2020

Join Atlantic Health System in asking the women in your life if they have had their annual mammogram.

A mammogram is the single most important thing women can do for early detection of breast cancer. For the past five years, Atlantic Health System has promoted its #AskHer campaign to encourage all of us to reach out to the women in our lives – mothers, sisters, wives, and friends – and encourage them to make their appointment for an annual mammogram.

Lydia Nadeau, executive director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care, and Rebecca Yang, MD, a breast surgeon with Atlantic Medical Group, joined a Community Conversation on October 7 to discuss the #AskHer campaign and the importance of mammograms. 

What is the #AskHer campaign?

The #AskHer campaign is designed to increase awareness of the importance of breast cancer screenings and to encourage women in our community to schedule their annual mammograms. It's a call to action for all of us to have this important conversation with the women in our lives.

Nadeau explained, “Our moms, our friends and our colleagues are really important to us and we ask them a lot of questions. Are you coming to the meeting today? Did you make my dinner? Mom, have you done all these things for us? But we really never bring into the conversation the question: did you have your mammogram this year? We need to say, you’re really important to me, I love you so much, and this is something that I want us to talk about.”

When this campaign launched five years ago, Atlantic Health System made it easier for women to book mammogram appointments online at convenient times and locations throughout our communities. Today, women can use the appointment portal 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to schedule daytime, evening and weekend appointments. Almost 5,000 women have booked their mammograms because of the #AskHer campaign. It has had an incredible impact on prevention and screening.

Why are mammograms so important and why should we encourage women to make appointments?

Dr. Yang said that mammograms are the key to screening for breast cancer. They are the only breast imaging study that is useful to help women identify breast cancer early and have been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality rates by 30%. Mammograms have been around for more than 50 years, and the screening is a straightforward, inexpensive way for women to be active in their breast health. Early detection translates to better outcomes, so women should schedule a mammogram every year.

How can women take advantage of this program?

A prescription or referral is encouraged but not necessary for a screening mammogram at the time of booking. Our team is ready to assist you to determine your needs and to help book your screening.

Who is at risk for breast cancer? 

There are multiple risk factors for breast cancer, including age and family history, but Dr. Yang noted that the number one risk factor is being a woman. Before a screening, women take a cancer risk assessment survey, with questions that will help the physicians in our imaging center understand your individual risk factors. When did you start getting your period? When did you start having children? Did you breastfeed? Do you drink alcohol or smoke? Do you exercise? The answers to these questions help start a conversation with your physician about risk management and what you can do, in addition to screening mammograms, to be proactive about your breast health.

Is it safe to get a mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is vital for women to schedule their annual mammograms, even during the pandemic. Early detection and diagnosis are important for effective treatment. Dr. Yang emphasized, “Delaying a diagnosis of breast cancer can affect the stage at which you present. And then it further affects the ability for us to work to cure you.”

Nadeau explained that Atlantic Health System follows stringent safety protocols to keep patients and caregivers safe. Any surface that a patient comes in contact with in the waiting room or the registration area is regularly and actively cleaned. Patients are socially distanced. Masks are required. She also noted that Atlantic Health System is trying to do as much online with patients as possible to shorten the time of their visits in its breast centers. It is safe to come into our facilities and, this year, it is as important as ever to make an appointment and to encourage those you love to schedule a mammogram. Learn more about our enhanced safety measures >

What is the significance of breast density when it comes to mammograms and breast cancer?

Breast density describes the composition of a woman's breast tissue, which is a combination of fatty and active tissue. Everyone’s breast density is unique, but about 50% of women have breast tissue that’s considered dense due to a higher percentage of active tissue. This can make it harder to look for very subtle changes on a screening mammogram, Dr. Yang explained.

“I tell patients it's like looking for a plane on a cloudy day or a polar bear in a snowstorm. Breast density is one of the risk factors for developing breast cancer. The more breast tissue there is, the more cells there are that could potentially turn into breast cancer, in addition to the fact that the ability to find a subtle change is compromised.”

What technology can increase the effectiveness of mammograms and how does that impact breast health?

Atlantic Health System offers three-dimensional mammograms, or 3-D tomosynthesis that enables our imagers to get a three-dimensional picture of a woman's breast tissue. We also offer breast ultrasounds. Dr. Yang said that these screenings give radiologists a much more accurate picture of what the breast tissue looks like and have been shown to increase detection and reduce callbacks.

Personalized care management helps us guide every woman's unique health and wellness needs. Nadeau explained that patients who are at a higher risk for breast cancer can meet with our genetic counselor, our dietitians, our medical oncologist and get on an exercise program. Treatment plans can often be based on a simple biopsy and many women can avoid a mastectomy, opting instead for a lumpectomy and outpatient surgery. If a mastectomy is necessary, advances in plastic surgery technology and techniques have led to effective breast reconstruction.

How long should patients who have COVID-19 wait to make an appointment for an annual mammogram?

Ideally, women should wait 28 days without symptoms before making an appointment. Other factors, including the severity of your illness and hospitalization may impact the timeline. Nadeau urged those who have recovered from COVID-19 to contact their primary care physician for guidance.

Is there financial assistance available to qualified patents?

If there is a financial barrier to getting your mammogram, contact us. We're here to help you, and we will help navigate you to a mammogram. Please don't let any financial barriers get in the way of your health.

Where can I find more information about the #AskHer campaign and breast health?

Learn more about #AskHer >

Questions? Call 1-844-343-3540 or text askher to 555888.