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New mammogram technology can diagnose cancer earlier and with more accuracy

A mammogram image is studied for signs of breast cancer. (NBC News)
A mammogram image is studied for signs of breast cancer. (NBC News)
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The coronavirus pandemic led to a concerning delay in important medical screenings, including mammograms.

Over the years, this particular screening has greatly improved, pinpointing cancers earlier.

"The key message for us, really, is that mammograms have changed a lot over time. Technology has improved," said Dr. Ana Lourenco, a professor of diagnostic imaging at Brown University, Diagnostic Radiology Residency Program Director and diagnostic radiologist at Rhode Island Hospital.

Improvements like 3D mammograms have led to better accuracy.

It must be noted, though, that consistency is super important.

"If you choose to change the location of -- provider facility where you get your mammogram, that it is critical to make sure that your old images are sent over so that there can be a comparison from one year back, two years back, three years back. We look back multiple years and that really increases our ability to detect cancers and also minimize the risk that we'll call you back for something that turns out to be benign," said Laurenco, who added that the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommends annual mammograms beginning at 40.

"Women who have dense breasts will be notified of their breast tissue density in the state of Rhode Island," explained Laurenco. "Those women with dense breast tissue may elect to pursue supplemental screening and if they're at average risk, that supplemental screening will be ultrasound."

Those at high risk -- a family history or a gene mutation -- may be offered a breast MRI.

The bottom line is to get that mammogram, especially if you've been putting it off during the pandemic, because delays in screening can make a huge difference.

"You want to find things when they're small and seen only on your imaging and not palpable, and we are unfortunately seeing more advanced presentation," said Laurenco.

"Not Your Grandma's Mammogram" is the clever title of an medical webinar on May 25. It is designed for medical professionals and health students, but anyone can sign up.

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