Chief of UPMC Clinical Breast Division Stresses Importance of Regular Screenings

By: Harry (Quincy) Nolan

For more than four decades, October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a time devoted to educating and creating awareness of the impact of breast cancer and the importance of early detection and high-quality care.

Dr. Terri-Ann Gizienski, chief of the UPMC Clinical Breast Division, performs diagnostic evaluations and mammograms at UPMC Magee-Womens locations throughout the region.  She talks about advances in breast cancer and the importance of regular screenings.

  1. What important advances have been made in breast imaging in the 20-plus years you have been practicing?

Early in my career, mammograms were essentially on film that had to be processed and developed. When we moved to digital, it was better, but in 2011, with the introduction of breast tomosynthesis, we witnessed the single greatest improvement in our ability to detect breast cancer at a much earlier stage. This is a 3D, digital X-ray. UPMC installed tomosynthesis immediately, so I and other radiologists in the UPMC system began using this technology as soon as it was available. 

  1. What has breast tomosynthesis done to improve prevention efforts?

Tomosynthesis allows us to find breast cancers at an earlier stage when tumors are very small. That’s my goal always — to find breast cancers when they’re small, curable and treatable. This gives women and men the best chance of beating this disease. More than 90% of breast cancers are curable, but they need to be found early.

  1. When should a woman begin regularly being screened for breast cancer?

At UPMC, we follow the American College of Radiology guidelines, which recommend annual screening mammography for women over 40. It’s important to get screened earlier if you have a strong family history of breast cancer.  If you have a first-degree relative, like your mother or your sister, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, we recommend screening 10 years before the age your family member was diagnosed.

  1. Have you found that the COVID-19 pandemic has still had an effect on women getting their screening mammograms?

Yes. We know that women may have skipped their annual screening due to the pandemic. Early indications are that this will lead to breast cancers being discovered at later stages. That’s why it’s important for women to recall if they did skip their mammogram and to make sure they make an appointment now. Many of my patients schedule mammograms around their birthdays or a significant date. If that’s past, then it’s important to get in now for that screening and not wait. Now, to make it even easier, many of our patients can schedule mammograms through their UPMC patient portal.

  1. What do you want to raise awareness about as we head into Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

I want to continue to stress the importance of regular breast screenings. If a patient is having a problem or suspects something is not right, they should talk with their doctor. The biggest message I can provide is that breast cancer is curable and treatable, and, if it is caught early, most will survive. 

To schedule your mammogram, visit UPMC.com/ScheduleMyMammo