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Doctor assures women of safety efforts taken for mammograms during pandemic

VALLEY — Dr. Gary Leung, M.D., a radiologist with EAMC-Lanier Hospital, on Wednesday sought to assure local women past 40 years of age that they can get their annual mammogram this year under very safe conditions. Dr. Leung was the guest speaker during the weekly noon-hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. He was accompanied by Beth Sheppard, a mammo tech at the hospital. Ashley Beck, the hospital’s radiology manager, is the club president.

“We have all gone through a difficult year with COVID-19,” said Leung, “but it’s important for women to get their annual mammogram. Mammograms are a proven way to identify breast cancer.”

According to the American College of Radiology, imaging practices are very safe, even with an ongoing pandemic.

“Breast cancer, unfortunately, doesn’t stop — not even for a global pandemic,” reads the American College of Radiology website, “so screening can’t afford to stop either. Simply put, mammography saves lives. While you may have reservations about going to a doctor now, do not allow the fear of the virus to prevent you from scheduling your mammogram and detecting your problem early. Share your concerns about scheduling your exam with your doctor, discuss your individual risk and decide together when it is safe for you to return to care.”

“We will ask you questions before we examine you,” Leung said. “Everyone will be wearing masks. The exam room is always cleaned between patients. We want people to understand that they don’t need to forestall this important health exam.”

Leung said the radiology community recommends annual exams starting at age 40. “Those who are in a higher risk category need to start earlier, around 30 to 35 years of age. When you get your mammogram, we will also screen for COVID.”

A Kiwanis Club member asked Leung if it’s cause for alarm if someone gets called back for another test.

He said it doesn’t necessarily mean that breast cancer has been detected.

“It’s always best to be sure,” he said.

Generally speaking, once a woman is past her 50s, it’s not necessary to have an annual exam.

“You may not need to have one every year,” he said. “It’s something you can talk to your doctor about.”

Leung said the risk of radiation exposure is extremely low with mammograms. “Standard mammograms have been going on for several decades now,” he said. “We can also screen for breast cancer with ultrasounds and injections.”

Younger women are more sensitive to the procedure and are generally not in a risk category, but those who have genetic markers or lumps definitely need to be tested. According to the American College of Radiology, all radiology practices follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.