Just 2 hours a year can reduce risk of dying from breast cancer


Pamela Otto, M.D., a faculty radiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, can’t fathom why most women 40 and older skip having an annual breast exam. It is the one thing that, more than any other, can dramatically lower a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer.


“Twenty-eight thousand ladies have breast care screens and follow-up annually with faculty at our clinic in University Hospital, but many more women don’t come annually,” said Dr. Otto, head of the division of breast imaging in the Health Science Center’s department of radiology. “We see some women for the first time in their 60s, and others we see only once every 10 years." Statistics indicate that women who have annual check-ups are 63 percent less likely to die from breast cancer, Dr. Otto said.


The division of breast imaging has four physicians, including three who are fellowship-trained in mammography. By the end of October, utilizing new equipment, the faculty will launch a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fine-needle biopsy service. MRI and fine-needle biopsy can be effectively used for early diagnosis of women who are at higher risk for breast cancer because of family history and other factors.


Fine-needle biopsy is extremely minimally invasive. “The incision is very small,” Dr. Otto said. “The technology to do fine-needle biopsy has not been available for the breast until now. This is a great advance, helping many women to avoid surgical biopsy for breast cancer.”


For most women, traditional mammography or ultrasound is sufficient, Dr. Otto said. The discomfort caused by mammography is momentary and the peace of mind it provides is priceless.