Cancer Institute

Annual Mammograms Starting at Age 40 Save Lives  

   Leah Mitts, patient services representative at Virginia Mason
    Leah Mitts encourages women who need to be screened to not be afraid, “get it done.”

Leah Mitts, a patient services representative at Virginia Mason, makes it a rule to always follow the recommendations that come from an employee health program.

As a result, when she turned 40 and received a reminder to have a screening mammogram, she scheduled the exam immediately. “I was so surprised to find out I had breast cancer,” Leah remembers. “I cried when I first heard, but I was so thankful that the tumors were found in the early stages.”

Virginia Mason is certified as a Breast Center of Excellence
by the American College of Radiology.

When her therapy began, Leah was given a binder that contained her treatment plan so she knew what to expect. As with all treatment plans at Virginia Mason, Leah’s was created especially for her by a multidisciplinary team, including surgical, radiation and medical oncologists, and genetic counselors.

Surgeon Debra Wechter, MD, “talked me through each step of my treatment plan,” Leah recalls. “I told her I didn’t want to have chemo and she explained that if I had certain lab results, it would be required. Thankfully I didn’t need it, but I appreciated that she listened to me and understood my concerns, and was willing to support my wishes as long as it was medically safe to do so.”

Dr. Wechter performed a lumpectomy, which was then followed with six weeks of daily radiation. At this point, family and friends stepped in with their version of therapy for Leah. “My sister made me laugh every day,” she says. “And the joy and laughter helped me get through it all.”

Today, Leah is considered in remission and knows that early detection was key. “My mission now is to speak up for others and give courage to all the women out there who are currently battling or have battled breast cancer. I want to encourage those who need to be screened but are having second thoughts,” Leah says. “Don’t be afraid, get it done.”

Should all women have a mammogram at age 40?

“Some organizations have reservations about starting mammograms at 40,” says radiologist Peter Eby, MD. “They may be concerned about the money and time spent on the exam, patient anxiety or the possibility of additional tests mammograms might generate when cancer is not present. But in the end, everyone agrees that screening every year starting at age 40 saves the most lives.”

“Mammography is the gold standard for breast cancer diagnosis,” adds Dr. Wechter. “It’s the only screening tool proven to reduce the rate of death. Since 1990, early detection has decreased annual deaths from breast cancer by a third.”

Schedule your mammogram today — right in your own neighborhood

Virginia Mason provides patients with experienced radiologists and technologists and has the best mammography options available, including computer-aided detection, digital 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) and breast MRI. Virginia Mason is certified as a Breast Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology.

Screening mammograms are available at all Virginia Mason regional medical centers. A physician referral isn’t needed and they can often be scheduled for the same day.