VA recently adopted the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) breast cancer screening guidelines. This alignment to private sector guidelines advances VA’s commitment to serving the unique needs of women Veterans.
Currently, 76 percent of women Veterans age 40-49 receive mammograms through VA. VA recognizes the importance of expanding access to on-site mammograms, ensuring Veterans receive age-appropriate breast cancer screenings, and using state-of-the-art information technology to meet the growing needs of women Veterans.
VA’s new breast cancer screening guidelines
Age 40: Talk with your doctor about when to begin screening. You have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40. If you face added risk factors, such as certain genetic mutations or a family history of breast cancer, talk to your provider about getting tested earlier and more often.
Age 45: Begin yearly mammograms;
At age 55: Get mammograms every other year, or continue with annual mammography, depending on your preferences;
At age 75+: Continue getting regular mammograms if you’re in good health.
The latest guideline applies to women at average risk for breast cancer.
Increased access to breast screening
We have expanded access to on-site mammograms by 62 percent since 2010, which demonstrates our focus on improving access to breast screening and coordination of care. Additionally, some facilities offer mammograms to walk-in patients and same-day ultrasounds. All eligible women Veterans have access to mammograms either on-site or through care in the community.
VA has established a state-of-the-art information technology Breast Cancer Registry (BCR). The BCR integrates patient data to provide comprehensive, patient-specific information about breast cancer screening, test results, past and current breast cancer treatment, and population surveillance of breast care (both in the community and within the VA).
VA’s performance measurements show that women Veterans are more likely to receive age-appropriate breast cancer screenings than women in private sector health care. In 2015, VA screened 86 percent of its women Veteran patients age 50-74, compared with the private sector at 73 percent.
Understand your mammogram
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time for a reminder about the importance of mammograms and early detection. But once you get a mammogram, what do the results tell you?
VA uses Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS) to provide understandable information. BI-RADs sorts the results into categories numbered 0 through 6.
These categories create a consistent way for our providers to describe what they find on a mammogram. This makes it much easier to accurately inform you about test results and appropriate next steps.
“It is very important to keep up with your mammogram as the American Cancer Society recommends. I have been getting mammograms through the Phoenix VA since 2013. I did not feel or have a lump when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. The Breast Radiologist found my type of cancer with mammography. I am so thankful for her and her team.”
— Veteran, USAF
Mammograms can’t prove when an abnormal area is cancer, but they can help your provider decide whether more testing is needed.
The provider reading your mammogram will be looking for different types of breast changes, such as small white spots called calcifications, lumps or tumors called masses, and other suspicious areas that could be signs of cancer.
When possible, the provider reading your mammogram will compare it to your old mammograms. This helps your provider find small changes that could be signs of cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s BI-RADS table can help you better understand the categories, your results, and guide a discussion with your VA provider.
This post was submitted by the Veterans Health Administration’s Women’s Health Services