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When Should I Get a Mammogram?

Posted on: October 27, 2015

New guidelines for when women should start getting mammograms have raised questions.

Dr. Bonnie Litvack, Director, Women's Imaging Center, Northern Westchester HospitalDr. Bonnie Litvack, Medical Director of the Women’s Imaging Center at Northern Westchester Hospital, answers questions many women have about when to start getting mammograms in light of the new breast cancer screening guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society, which raised the suggested age that women start getting mammograms at age 45, up from 40 years of age.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently issued new guidelines for when women should begin getting mammograms. They previously recommended that women begin getting mammograms at the age of 40, and now they are recommending women begin getting mammograms at age 45. I understand that this can be confusing and frustrating for women, and I want to share information that I hope is both helpful and reassuring.

First and foremost, these new guidelines are meant for women with an average risk of getting breast cancer – women with no family history of breast cancer. These recommendations are not for women who have a family history of breast cancer or who carry the BRCA gene. And if there is any take-away from this message, every woman is different and every woman should speak with her doctor to determine the best plan and timing for beginning or continuing to get mammograms.

I recommend that women begin getting mammograms at the age of 40 and continue to get them annually as long as they are in good health. Why? Because research and science have shown that the maximum amount of lives are saved when we start screening annually at the age of 40, again for women with an average risk of getting breast cancer.

The ACS reasoned that certain “risks” are presented in younger women who get mammograms, such as false positives that lead to additional screenings, or in rare cases, a biopsy. However, I want to be clear, that the benefits of getting a mammogram are objective – it is proven to save lives. The risks are completely subjective. Some women might feel anxious getting a mammogram, or hearing that they need to get additional screening. We work tirelessly to reduce anxiety associated with getting a mammogram. But ask many women, and they would rather have a false positive only to hear that everything is fine after additional screening. We’re balancing anxiety with saving lives, and mammograms save lives.

About those false positives…

At Northern Westchester Hospital, all of our technology is digital. We do not use film mammography, which is what was used in the studies that the ACS based their latest recommendations on. Radiologists have made significant improvements in mammography using digital technology, and we have been using tomosynthesis radiation (3D mammography) which provides quick, clear, and more definitive results. Scientific studies have shown that 3D mammography has reduced false positives by up to 1/3, meaning many fewer of our patients are called back for additional screening.

Finally, the ACS also recommended that all women can skip the clinical breast exam, which is conducted manually by your doctor. I disagree. For our patients, we want to find anything unusual as early as possible. This exam is part of our patients’ regular annual exams, and it does not cost anything. I recommend that women continue to get regular clinical breast exams.

Editor’s Note:
Under the leadership of Dr. Bonnie Litvack, the Women’s Imaging Center at Northern Westchester Hospital has been acclaimed as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. She is fellowship trained in MRI and has extensive experience in all aspects of women’s imaging, including mammography.

Read more about Northern Westchester Hospital’s 3-D mammography.

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Catching Lung Cancer Early

Posted on: October 26, 2015

A Story of Hope…

Dr. Christos StavropoulosAlthough my patient quit smoking six years ago, she remained at high risk for lung cancer. When a Low-Dose CT screening showed something like a little marble in her lung, I recommended a surgical biopsy. But my patient hesitated, feeling “very nervous” about the procedure. When I gently told her that “If it were my mother, this is the advice I’d give her,” she agreed to proceed.

During the operation, I extracted a piece of lung with the nodule to obtain the diagnosis. When it tested positive for cancer, I performed a lobectomy during the same procedure, sparing my patient a second exposure to anesthesia. Afterwards, she was immensely relieved that her cancer was removed, and very pleased to be “up and around” almost immediately after the minimally invasive procedure.

Today, my patient is incredibly grateful that her cancer was found at stage 1A, and that, as a result, she didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy, just ongoing surveillance CT scans.

This is the best possible scenario for someone with lung cancer. Because we caught her cancer early, she has a real chance for a cure.

To see if you’re a candidate for low-dose CT scans, take this self-assessment.

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Stavropoulos is the Director of the Lung Cancer Program at the Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center at Northern Westchester Hospital

Germ Buster Nutrition – Eating for a Strong Immune System

Posted on: October 13, 2015

Germ Buster Nutrition – Eating for a Strong Immune System

Prevent the flu with good nutrition. 

By Elisa Bremner

In anticipation of flu season, it’s time to talk about prevention. First and foremost, please remember: the best defense against the flu is a year-round offense. This means eating right, staying active (60 minutes every day), getting enough rest (7-9 hours!) and minimizing stress (we can’t avoid stressful events in our life, but we can make the decision to handle them better). That being said, several nutrients play a role in enhancing your immunity. Mild deficiency of even one nutrient may weaken your body’s ability to fight infection.

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Activate Your Defenses Against the Flu

Posted on: October 12, 2015

Activate Your Defenses Against the Flu

This year, government analysis indicates the vaccine will be a good match for this year’s flu strains. Read on…

By Dr. Debra Spicehandler

Believe it or not, it’s already flu shot time. If you haven’t already scheduled one, now is the time. Gaining full immunity can take about two weeks, and you want to make sure you’re protected before the flu begins circulating in your community.

You may have heard that last year’s vaccine didn’t offer as much protection as usual, but that’s no reason to skip the shot this year. Developing the yearly flu vaccine is a complex process: Several months in advance of flu season, public health officials have to predict which strain of flu virus will be most prevalent come winter in order to give vaccine makers time to produce the nearly 180 million doses America requires. Occasionally, the predictions miss the target—or the target moves. In 2014, the flu virus mutated after the vaccine had shipped. As a result, the shots were only about 13% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, a recent government analysis indicates the vaccine will be a good match for this year’s flu strains. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get the vaccine, which now comes as a needle injection, a jet (air) injection, and a nasal spray. You can get vaccinated at your doctor’s office, your workplace, or at local pharmacies, health departments, and schools.

Flu shots are available right now, and the sooner you get your dose the better. It takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in, and you want to be sure you have immunity before the virus starts circulating in your area. People who should be first in line are those at higher risk for complications from the flu, such as the elderly, young children, and anyone with a compromised immune system. You can rest assured that the vaccine is safe; the only reason to avoid it is if you have a history of an allergic reaction to the shot. (By the way, you do need to get a shot every year—immunity doesn’t carry over.)

In order to protect against catching the flu, get the vaccine and be careful to always wash your hands. If symptoms do develop, see your doctor. If you test positive for the flu, you can get a prescription for antiviral drugs, which can reduce your symptoms and help you heal faster.

Find a flu vaccine location near you…

Editor’s Note:
Debra Spicehandler, MD is Co-Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at Northern Westchester Hospital

Dealing with Caregiver Stress

Posted on: March 20, 2015

“Caregiving can be very isolating, is a job most people didn’t apply for and never received proper training in, and does not pay very well,” says Jerri Rosenfeld, a social worker at Northern Westchester Hospital’s Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center in Mount Kisco, NY. Jerri spoke with Health.com; read complete article here to see tips on dealing with the stress of being a family caregiver.

Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center Northern Westchester HospitalAccording to the National Alliance for Caregiving, roughly one third of adults in this country are the caregiver for an elderly, ill or disabled family member. Two thirds of those caregivers are women.  And many of those women are also caring for children at home.

There are a number of resources available to you. How to find those resources is where the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center comes in. Visit the Caregivers Center here.  Family caregivers find a wealth of practical resources and supportive staff.  You don’t have to go it alone.