“Breast care centers have reopened with many safety measures in place, but some women are still reluctant to come in,” says Dr. Debbie Bennett, Washington University chief of breast imaging at Siteman Cancer Center. With social distancing, universal masking, patient and staff screening, and thorough cleaning of all equipment and surfaces between patients, women no longer need to put off mammograms, she notes.
“Women should balance the minimal risks of exposure with the risks of skipping a routine health visit,” Bennett adds. “Screening mammograms are intended to catch breast cancers at the earliest possible stage, when your chance for a full recovery is greatest. This is best accomplished when done yearly.”
“We have mostly returned to pre-pandemic procedures for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, although with many new safety measures in place,” she says. “This means limiting the number of visitors or family members a patient can bring, to minimize exposure risk for all. To accommodate more social distancing and extra time for cleaning, we’ve expanded our clinical hours into the evenings and Saturdays. Our mobile mammography van is another convenient way for women to stay on schedule.”
However, while diagnosis and treatment temporarily slowed, research continued to advance in the first half of 2020. Bennett highlights new uses for artificial intelligence in screening mammography: “Recent studies show that AI has the potential to help breast radiologists find breast cancers at the earliest possible time, which gives women the best chance of successful treatment.”
Bennett also reminds women that overall healthy lifestyle strategies continue to be important in decreasing breast cancer risk. These include maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and getting regular exercise.
“Women should take some time to care for themselves,” Bennett says. “The pandemic has highlighted the tremendous amount of work, both inside and outside of the home, that women are doing throughout our society. Despite trying to juggle responsibilities of caring for many other people, women should carve out a small amount of time for themselves – both in daily healthy habits and preventive care.
“Screening mammograms take about 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes give women the best chance of staying healthy for many years to come.”