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Making Breast Health a Priority

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Woman having a mammogram

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Hearing the words, “you have cancer,” can be shocking, frightening and emotional. Just ask Cooper Clinic radiologist and breast imaging subspecialist R. Vance Dell, MD, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer more than two decades ago.

“Her doctor called me in and said, ‘Vance, I’ve never seen a faster growing cancer,’” says Dell. “I was scared to death.” 

It was that diagnosis that led Dell to specialize in breast cancer mammography, a career he’s poured his heart into ever since. Here, he discusses when women should begin undergoing annual mammograms and how 3D mammography can help with early detection and diagnosis.

When to Get Screened 

When should women start receiving annual mammograms? 

“The rule Cooper Clinic recommends and follows is to get a mammogram at the age of 40 and continue every year,” says Dell. 

If breast cancer runs in your family, Dell says the rules change a bit. Then, he recommends starting annual mammograms 10 years earlier than the first degree relative was diagnosed. 

“For example, if a woman was diagnosed at the age of 45 and she has daughters, then they should start receiving annual mammograms at age 35,” explains Dell.

The Power of 3D Mammography

The best way to detect breast cancer early on is with 3D mammography. 

“It’s been proven to find cancer smaller and on average, 15 months earlier than with normal mammography,” explains Dell. 

How does it work? Genius™ 3D Mammography takes a series of detailed images of the breast. This allows breast tissue to be evaluated layer by layer in more detail, helping to screen for cancer as small as the size of a tic-tac. 

“A tic-tac is exactly 10 millimeters from one end to the other,” explains Dell. “When we catch women with breast cancer that size or smaller, 99 percent are alive 5 years later and more than 96 percent are alive 20 years later.”

Unfortunately, Dell says cancer is usually double that size, about 20 mm in length, before it can be felt by a woman or her physician. 

“By this size, 20 to 60 percent of the cancers have already spread to the lymph nodes,” says Dell. 
Only about one third of facilities in the country have 3D equipment, including Cooper Clinic. That’s something Dell’s patients are willing to travel for.

“I’ve had several patients who live in another state and have felt a lump in their breast, called me and chose to fly back to Cooper to see me because we have such advanced technology,” says Dell. He says in one of those cases, the patient’s mammogram depicted cancer.

Why You Should Never Skip

Women in their 40s have a lot on their plate and while some items can be put on the back burner, Dell says mammograms shouldn’t be one of them.

“Many women might think it’s just skipping a mammogram,” says Dell. “But really, they’re just giving possible undetected cancers time to grow.”

Dell says many women are also fearful of mammograms due to possible radiation. While radiation in high doses can cause cancer, Dell says a woman can get a mammogram every year from the age of 40 until she’s 100 with no impact to her health.

“That amount of radiation she would receive is less than if she would have lived in Denver, Colorado for 60 years,” says Dell. 

Making sure women come in annually for their mammograms is important to Dell. Why? It was just days before his wife’s first mammography, at the age of 40, that she felt a lump on her breast. Because they caught the cancer early and acted quickly, she’s alive and thriving today. 

For more information about breast imaging and 3D mammography at Cooper Clinic, visit or call 972.560.2651.