(BPT) - If concerns about COVID-19 exposure caused you to postpone routine health screenings such as mammograms over the past year, you are not alone. According to a study in the Journal of American College of Radiology, mammograms decreased by up to 92% in some areas at the height of the pandemic last year. Now, with Americans getting vaccinated and infection rates decreasing around the country, many women are playing catch-up to get these vital health screenings done, which leads to another potential issue - a drastic increase in workload for healthcare professionals, such as radiologists.
Fortunately, new tools are available to help clinicians cope with this sudden demand, which at the same time provide them a higher degree of accuracy than ever before. Innovative technology called ProFound AI® uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help radiologists read mammograms more than 50% faster, as shown in a study published in Radiology: Artificial Intelligence. The study also found that this technology not only improves radiologists' speed, but also their accuracy, which both reduces false positives and helps doctors find cancers sooner, when they may be more effectively treated. ProFound AI was the first 3D tomosynthesis software using AI to be cleared by the FDA.
'ProFound AI has played an integral role in our practice as we begin to recover from the impact of COVID-19,' according to Randy Hicks, MD, MBA, Co-owner and CEO of Regional Medical Imaging (RMI) in Michigan. 'Not only does it help our team of clinicians work more efficiently and keep pace with the surge of patients who need to be screened, both our radiologists and patients feel more confident in the accuracy of mammogram results.'
What do you need to know in today's health environment before making your mammogram appointment?
How important is it to get my mammogram?
Breast cancer recently surpassed lung cancer as the number 1 diagnosed cancer in the U.S., excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute recently predicted there could be almost 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancers over the next decade as a direct result of delayed screening due to the pandemic.
'Regular screenings for breast cancer are more important now than ever,' added Dr. Hicks. 'If you put off your regularly scheduled mammogram last year, today is a good day to call to make your next appointment.'
Should I be worried if I get a call back for more imaging?
If your doctor notices any areas of concern from your mammogram, additional images can help them determine whether a biopsy is needed to know if cancer is present. But getting this notification from your doctor can lead to stress and anxiety for women.
'Getting a mammogram is a crucial first step towards taking control of your breast health,' according to Dr. Hicks. 'Having mammograms read by ProFound AI also provides a benefit for both patients and healthcare providers, as it is clinically proven to reduce the rate of false positives by 7%.'
Fewer false positives not only mean less stress for those patients, but it also helps to reduce the chances that those women will need additional time-consuming and worrisome visits and procedures. Ask your healthcare provider if they are using this technology to boost efficiency and accuracy in reading mammography.
What do I need to know about the connection between COVID-19 vaccinations and lymph nodes?
Some women have experienced enlarged and sore lymph nodes (such as in the underarm area) as a response to the COVID-19 vaccine. While this is considered a fairly normal response to the vaccination, as it is a sign your immune system is kicking into high gear, enlarged lymph nodes could be mistaken during mammography for a rare type of breast cancer.
For this reason, the Society of Breast Imaging now recommends scheduling mammograms either before your first vaccine dose (if you haven't yet been vaccinated), or wait 4-6 weeks after your last COVID-19 vaccine dose to avoid this issue.
'The bottom line is to book your mammogram this year,' Dr. Hicks added. 'In spite of the disruptions and confusion COVID introduced into our daily lives, it is still important to prioritize your health and be screened for breast cancer regularly.'
To learn more about ProFound AI, visit www.icadmed.com.