Breast Center FAQS

Regular clinical breast exams and routine mammography are important tools in the early detection of breast cancer. Following are some frequently asked questions about the basics and advantages of breast imaging and breast cancer diagnostics specific to our Breast Center.

Please feel free to call us to speak with a breast radiologist or mammography technologist about your breast health concerns. Call the Sonnenalp Breast Center hotline at (970) 569-7417, Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM.

What is a 3D mammography breast exam?

3D mammography is a revolutionary new screening and diagnostic tool designed for early breast cancer detection. During the exam, an X-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over each breast, taking multiple images. Then, a computer produces a 3D image of the breast tissue in one millimeter slices, providing greater visibility for the radiologist to see detail in a way never before possible. Radiologists can scroll through images of the entire breast like pages of a book. The additional 3D images make it possible to gain a better understanding of the breast tissue during screening and the confidence to reduce the need for follow-up imaging.

Mammography is one of the most effective tools available to detect breast cancer. Often, breast cancers can be seen on a mammogram before any breast symptoms occur. The American Cancer Society recommends women start annual screening mammography at age 40. Patients with a strong family history (a first-degree relative such as a sister or mother) are encouraged to start screening mammography 10 years prior to the breast cancer diagnosis of the relative. Mammography does not prevent breast cancer, but it can save lives by detecting cancer at the earliest stage possible.

What are the benefits of 3D mammography?

With conventional digital mammography, the radiologist is viewing all the complexities of the breast tissue in a one flat image. Sometimes breast tissue can overlap, giving the illusion of normal breast tissue looking like an abnormal area. By looking at the breast tissue in one millimeter slices, the radiologist can provide a more confident assessment. In this way, 3D mammography finds cancers missed with conventional 2D mammography. It also means there is less chance the patient will be called back for a “second look” because the breast tissue is seen more clearly.

Does a mammogram hurt? Why do they have to compress the breast?

While a mammogram is not intended to hurt, it may cause a minimal amount of discomfort for some women. Patients are encouraged to schedule a mammogram during the second half of their menstrual cycle when breasts are less sensitive. Most women don't mind the compression. The image exposure that is taken is only about 15 seconds, so the breast is not compressed for a long period of time. Tylenol or Ibuprofen is recommended if pain continues after the mammogram.

The breast tissue is best visualized when the tissue is spread out, and to spread the tissue out, compression is needed. The compression holds the breast tissue still for the exposure-the more compression, the better the mammogram images. Please tell your mammography technologist your pain threshold. If you can tolerate more compression, go for it! The likelihood you will have to return for additional imaging is decreased as the compression is increased. Remember, your mammography technologist compresses because she cares!

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

Screening mammography is a wellness test that is performed when there are no breast symptoms. During a screening mammogram, a mammography technologist usually takes two pictures of each breast (occasionally more) to visualize all the breast tissue. In patients with breast implants, four views are taken of each breast. A breast radiologist is typically not present to read routine breast imaging. The patient can expect the appointment to be 20 to 30 minutes.

Diagnostic mammography is performed when there is a change in the screening mammogram, or when the patient has breast symptoms. Diagnostic mammographic images are different from those taken for a screening mammogram. A breast radiologist is on-site to read the examination and will review the results with the patient, if needed. Diagnostic mammography can lead to further breast imaging such as breast ultrasound, breast MRI or breast biopsy. The patient can expect to be at the Breast Center for 1 to 1 ½ hours for diagnostic mammography.

Diagnostic mammography is performed in the following situations:

  • When the breast radiologist determines there is a questionable abnormality on screening examination
  • When there is a history of breast cancer
  • When there is a lump or thickening
  • When the patient experiences swelling or changes in skin appearance
  • For women with nipple inversion
  • When the patient experiences new or bloody nipple discharge
  • When a patient experiences breast pain (only 15 percent of women with breast pain will require treatment)
  • For any other breast sign or symptom

What should I know about my financial options?

Most insurance companies cover a portion or all the cost of a screening mammogram; however, not all diagnostic mammograms are covered by insurance. Because each insurance plan varies, patients are encouraged to call their insurance company to verify their benefits. Additionally, a range of costs may be supplied by our Insurance Support Team by calling (970) 777-2902 or emailing insurancesupport@vvmc.com.

Patients who cannot afford a mammogram are encouraged to call the Eagle Care Clinic at (970) 569-7520 to determine if they are eligible for a free mammogram through The Komen Foundation or The Women's Wellness Coalition. In addition, The Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group (VBAG) has granted the Sonnenalp Breast Center a $50,000 fund to help support women in need of diagnostic imaging and genetic counseling services. Eligible women are gifted $500 to help offset medical bills related to diagnostic services at the center. Additionally, eligible women in need of genetic counseling services are given $300. Patients must be Eagle County residents, have a $2,000 or higher deductible and indicate that they are in need of the financial assistance. For more information on VBAG funding, please call (970) 569-7695.

What is a breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound is a breast imaging exam that uses soundwaves to create a real-time image of the breast. The sonographer places warm gel on the area to be scanned and uses an ultrasound transducer (probe) to image the area of interest. This test is not painful. The breast radiologist reviews the patient's images, may scan the area again and will then review the results with the patient. Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that complements mammography or other breast imaging, but is not meant to replace those methods.
 
Ultrasound can be offered to:

  • Women or men who have a lump or thickening in their breast
  • Women with nipple discharge or breast pain
  • Women who have breast implants
  • Women who are pregnant and should not be exposed to X-ray and those who have breast symptoms
  • Women who have dense breasts (SonoCiné)

 

Can I have a breast ultrasound instead of a mammogram?

Breast ultrasound does not replace mammography, and mammography does not produce the same type of imaging as breast ultrasound. Both exams visualize the breast tissue utilizing different techniques - breast ultrasound uses sound waves and produces a real-time image, and mammography uses X-rays to produce a two-dimensional image. The tests complement each other, but do not replace each other. Mammography is the only screening tool for breast cancer that is known to reduce the death rate from breast cancer. While breast ultrasound is a very valuable breast imaging test in finding cancers, it is not considered a screening or wellness examination, and therefore, most insurance companies will not cover the cost.

Why should I have a mammogram?

Mammograms can save your life when breast cancer is found early. A mammogram can show cancer that is too small to feel. When breast cancer is found early, there are many more treatment options and a greater chance of a cure.

How do I prepare for a mammogram at Sonnenalp Breast Center?

  • Please do not wear any perfume, lotions or deodorants on the day of your examination.
  • Arrive at the breast center a few minutes prior to your scheduled breast imaging exam.
  • Bring your prescription from your care provider, along with a photo ID and your insurance card or mammogram voucher.
  • Bring any prior breast imaging (mammograms, breast ultrasound or breast MRI) along with the radiologist report. If the prior facility has the images on disk, please request your images in this format. This is very important, especially if you have significant breast health history.
  • Wear a comfortable two-piece outfit as we will have you change from the waist up into a gown.
  • While we do not anticipate a wait, please bring a book in case we are not running on time.
  • Please keep in mind that a screening mammogram appointment should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Diagnostic breast imaging appointments vary from 1 to 1½ hours. The breast radiologist has many patients to see, and your understanding and patience is appreciated if you have to wait.
  • Not all breast imaging tests are covered by insurance. Please feel free to call your insurance company or Vail Valley Medical Center's Insurance Support Team at (888) 652-7640.
  • Sonnenalp Breast Center does not provide babysitting services.
  • Out of respect for other patients, please do not use cell phones in waiting areas.

Who can have a 3D mammography exam?

3D mammograms are approved for all women who would be undergoing a standard mammogram, in both the screening and diagnostic settings.

At what age should I have a mammogram?

The American Cancer Society recommends women get a mammogram once a year, beginning at age 40. Those with a strong family history (a first-degree relative such as a sister or mother) are encouraged to start their mammograms 10 years prior to the breast cancer diagnosis of the relative. Talk with your health care provider if you have any questions about when mammography is appropriate for you.

How do I prepare for a biopsy at Sonnenalp Breast Center?

If you are having a biopsy, it is important that you read the following information.

  • Please do not take any aspirin or blood thinners three days prior to your biopsy. If you are taking certain pain relievers, blood thinners, vitamins or herbal supplements, please talk to your physician before you stop taking any medications.
  • Wear a comfortable two-piece outfit.
  • Bring a photo ID, an order from your care provider and your insurance card.
  • Bring any prior breast imaging exam along with reports. Please ask for a CD from your prior facility if their images were performed digitally.
  • If you feel the need for sedatives for anxiety, you will need to contact your health care provider to obtain the medicine. Please do not take the sedative until you have signed the consent form. If you take a sedative, you must have someone to drive you home after the procedure.
  • Your procedure will be performed by a breast radiologist and a mammography technologist, who are specially trained in breast biopsy.
  • Your tissue will be sent to a pathologist for review. Your doctor will call you with the results.

 

What is my care after a breast biopsy?

  • Use the ice we provide you to relieve pain and swelling - 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off.
  • If your breast is sore, take Tylenol for the pain.
  • Do not participate in strenuous activities for 24 hours.
  • Do not bathe or shower for 24 hours.
  • Your breast may bruise. The bruise can last for 3 to 6 months.
  • Watch for signs of infection, such as redness, fever or hot to the touch. See your care provider if symptoms persist.
  • Leave the Steri Strips on for 3 to 5 days. You may remove the pressure dressing after 24 hours.
  • Slight bleeding and oozing is normal.
  • If bleeding occurs, hold pressure for 10 minutes or until bleeding subsides. If the bleeding does not stop, see your care provider or go to the emergency room.
  • You may get a hematoma or lump in the area of the biopsy. This should resolve over time.
  • Your results will be available 2 to 3 days after your biopsy through your care provider.

My breast biopsy results are negative. What does that mean now?

If you results are negative or benign, please return to Sonnenalp Breast Center for a six-month follow-up exam. A reminder for the follow-up will be sent to you.

My breast biopsy results are positive or indeterminate. What is the next step?

Sonnenalp Breast Center and Shaw Regional Cancer Center are here for you. This news can be difficult to hear and confusing to comprehend, but Shaw's care team will do everything to help you and your loved ones understand your condition.

Shaw Regional Cancer Center's multidisciplinary team meets every Tuesday morning to discuss the most appropriate care for each patient and consults with patients and family and/or caregivers at private appointments.

What if I cannot afford a mammogram?

All women age 40 and older with Medicare can receive a screening mammogram once a year. Most health insurance companies reimburse all or part of the cost of a screening mammogram. Your insurance company should provide more details. If you do not have insurance and need assistance, you may be a candidate for a free mammogram. For more information, call the Eagle Care Clinic at (970) 569-7555.

How do I have my films sent to another breast imaging facility?

Please fill out our Film Release Form (pdf) and fax it to (970) 470-6681 or email it to SBC@vvmc.com. Please give us 2 to 3 business days to process your request. All breast images are sent via USPS unless otherwise requested and will include a DICOM disc and the breast radiologist's report.

How do I have my films sent from another facility to Sonnenalp Breast Center for comparison?

Please send our Film Release Form (pdf) to the other facility. Please call us if you need assistance locating your prior breast imaging exams.

If using FedEx or UPS, the facility should mail to our physical address:
Sonnenalp Breast Center
322 Beard Creek Road
Edwards, CO 81632

If using United States Postal Service, please mail to our mailing address:
PO Box 2559
Edwards, CO 81632