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Mammogram 101: Who needs them, how often and how to get one in Lawrence

Mammograms can help detect breast cancer in its early phases — when it is most treatable — according to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Richard Kuckelman, a board-certified radiologist with Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said there are a few factors in what age a woman should start getting mammograms.

Although opinions vary depending on which organization you ask, he said, the American College of Radiology recommends the average woman start getting annual mammograms at age 40.

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However, some risk factors can adjust that age, the biggest being family history. Kuckelman said women should start getting screened eight to 10 years prior to the youngest cancer in their family history or by age 40. Also, if a woman has had radiation therapy to the chest for Hodgkin’s disease, for example, he said she should start getting screened eight to 10 years after that.

Genetics also play a large role. Kuckelman said people with the BRCA gene, which increases your lifetime risk of breast cancer to 80-85 percent, should start mammograms in their mid-20s.

"More and more, we're doing genetic testing on newly diagnosed breast cancer,” Kuckelman said, and that generally applies to anyone diagnosed before age 50, anyone with bilateral breast cancer or those who have certain types of breast cancer.

How it works

Kuckelman said from the time you walk into the room to get the scan to the time you leave takes about five minutes. Then, he said, in most facilities, radiologists read the scans the same day or by the next day.

There are 2D and 3D mammograms available; Kuckelman said LMH hopes to have 3D technology by early next year. He said the 3D systems offer some advantages.

“The national callback rate (for further scans or testing), on average, is about 10 percent; however, that number is going down with the use of 3D mammography,” he said.

Kuckelman, who has worked in Lawrence for about a year now, said one advantage LMH has is that there is a surgeon on site, so abnormalities on scans can often be biopsied the same day.

"To me, the worst part of the whole process is the unknown, the wait to find out what's wrong,” he said. “By having the surgeon here and doing most of the biopsies the same day, you get an answer quicker and therefore the anxiety time is significantly less, and I really like how they do that here."

Kuckelman also recommends monthly self-exams and yearly exams by a primary care physician.

Money matters

LMH has a program that offers vouchers to cover the cost of mammograms as well as a radiologist reading for women whose income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, said Dave Watson, a financial counselor with the hospital.

The hospital has a new policy in place, though.

“This year, we've started doing it to where we're not going to refuse anybody,” Watson said. “If they need a mammogram voucher, we will give them a mammogram voucher, whether they are over the guidelines or not, because we don't want anybody missed.

Watson said it’s a simple process to fill out the application, turn it in and receive a voucher within a couple of days. Those who qualify under the income guidelines may also get discounts on their bills associated with LMH.

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