Annual Mammogram is Vital to Early Detection of Breast Cancer

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A yearly mammogram plays a vital role in the early detection of breast cancer. Without it, cancer can spread and go years undetected.

"The important part of education is you're catching it when it's a localized disease, you know contained within the breast," Dr. Betty Acker with the Brazos Valley Women's Center said. "As opposed to spread out to the local areas, maybe to the chest wall, and to the lymph nodes."

As was the case with Thelma Isenhart, whose cancer had spread to her lymph system before she ever knew it was there.

"I did not believe in mammograms, and so I was 58 years old, and I had only had two mammograms in my whole life," Isenhart said.

Thelma had always conducted self-exams. However, she says she never found a lump until she began having pain on the right side of her chest.

"I felt it in the shower that night. There was a lump and so I immediately went and had a mammogram," Isenhart said. "The doctor called me at work the next day and said I need you to go to the surgeon."

The news came as a big shock for Thelma who says up until that point she thought she had done everything right. She had her children in her twenties, never took hormones, and didn't go through menopause until her fifties.

The yearly mammogram was the one big thing Thelma was missing.

"They're kind of uncomfortable and there was no history in our family of breast cancer," Isenhart said. "So I really thought I was immune to it and my message now when I go to speak to groups is no one is immune to it."

Thelma says the cancer had probably been there three to four years, and that a mammogram most likely could have caught it before it spread.

That is why doctors say self-exams along with a yearly mammogram are so important.

"Breast Cancer is fairly advanced by the time someone would notice something they could feel," Acker said. "So the point of a mammogram screening is to catch it when it's microscopic, when it can only be detected by the technology of the mammogram itself, not by the fingertips."

No one is a bigger believer of that than Thelma herself. She has undergone a mastectomy, chemo-therapy, and radiation to rid her body of the cancer.

"It's scary just saying cancer. It's something you see on tv, but you never think you're going to have to say I have breast cancer," Isenhart said. "You just got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and fight."