Billings Clinic


The Key to Surviving Breast Cancer: Early Detection with a Mammogram

Posted at 9:28 AM, Oct 08, 2019

The statistics on breast cancer in the United States can be overwhelming. It is the second most common form of cancer among American women and there is a one in eight chance a woman will develop the disease in her lifetime.

Nationally, more than 245,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while a June 2018 Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services report indicates that more than 800 Montana women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and about 140 die from it annually.

But buried among the statistics are encouraging numbers that show the importance and effectiveness of regular screenings and early detection in survival rates.

“With how common breast cancer is, early detection is key,” said Dr. Le Min Lee, a medical oncologist at Billings Clinic.

The American Cancer Society estimates that the five-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer – the earliest forms of the disease – is near 100 percent, while those diagnosed with stage II breast cancer see a rate of about 93 percent.

The survival rate for stage III breast cancers is about 73 percent and those in stage IV that have spread to other parts of the body, called metastatic, have a five-year relative survival rate of around 22 percent. However, it is important to note that many of these cases can see success with proper treatment.

Dr. Lee said the majority of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage.

“That’s a good thing,” she said. “Early-stage breast cancer can often be cured, and patients can go on to live healthy, happy lives.”

One of the most important tools in early breast cancer detection is a mammogram. While it cannot prevent or cure the disease, this simple diagnostic procedure is vital in catching it in the early stages, since many women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors and no family history of the disease.

The American College of Radiology recommends that women start receiving annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

Dr. Heather Gale, a Billings Clinic radiologist who specializes in diagnostic and women’s imaging, noted that those at a higher risk – such as women with a strong family history or those with certain genetic indicators – may consider getting screenings at a younger age at the recommendation of a physician.

She also recommends women start by talking to their care providers to help determine risk factors, along with regular annual mammograms.

“Once you get that first mammogram, you need to do it every year after,” Gale said. “You might get 10 negative results but if you get one positive result, that’s why we do it. Our goal is to detect breast cancer early and the best way to do that is to get your mammogram every year.”

The Billings Clinic Reger Family Center for Breast Health features tomosynthesis technology for mammography, which uses X-rays to provide a 3-dimensional view of the breast, making fine details more clearly visible.

This includes the new Genius 3-D Mammography Exam, which is available to any patient who comes to Billings Clinic for care, to give the care team the clearest picture and most detail. The Genius technology provides better, earlier breast cancer detection and can reduce unnecessary callbacks by as much as 40 percent. The included SmartCurve breast stabilization system also creates a more comfortable experience and exam.

“It’s the newest, best technology we have,” she said. “It improves our detection rate. It’s an added advantage at no significant increased risk.”

Billings Clinic offers complete breast diagnostic services in a private, comfortable environment. Billings Clinic radiologists utilize computer-aided detection (CAD) technology on mammograms. The Center is staffed by a dedicated, caring team of breast care specialists, including certified female technologists and board-certified radiologists.

For more information, to schedule a mammogram or for more details on the Genius exam, call 406-238-2501 or 800-332-7156 or visit