Breast Cancer Awareness Month is still a couple of months away, but at the Breast Center at St. Mary's, every month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now is a great time to consider your breast health and schedule your mammogram.

This year nearly 230,000 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer. That's more than 630 people every day. Worse, for those diagnosed it's estimated that around 40,000 women and men will die from the condition.

Anytime is a good time to schedule a mammogram. Mammograms help save lives. Mammography is the only breast cancer screening test proven to decrease mortality in breast cancer by 30 percent. It is still the best way to find breast cancer early, often even before lumps or other abnormalities can be felt by a woman or her doctor.

There has been discussion in recent years about how often a screening mammography should be done, but it's important to note that The American Cancer Society still recommends mammography for:

• Women starting at age 40 and continuing annually for as long as a woman is in good health.

• Women with a mother or sister who had breast cancer at a younger age should consider yearly mammograms beginning earlier than the age at which their youngest family member was diagnosed.

• Clinical breast exams are recommended about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.

Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and be able to report any breast change promptly to their doctor. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s. And routine screening mammography is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is less than 2 percent of all U.S. women.) Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.

In the Breast Center at St. Mary's, mammogram results are interpreted by a board-certified radiologist with the assistance of the newest computer aided diagnosis system. You and your health care provider will get a written report of the results within 30 days after your mammogram.

The Breast Center at St. Mary's has earned accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, given only to those centers that have voluntarily committed to provide the highest level of quality breast care and a rigorous evaluation of their performance.

To make it more convenient to get this important screening, The Breast Center at St. Mary's has expanded mammography hours:

• Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

• Wednesday: 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

• Walk-in mammograms are available Monday-Thursday, 8-11:30 a.m., and 1-4 p.m.

While you can just walk in, if you want to schedule a screening, call the Breast Center at 816-655-5515. You do not need a physician referral for a screening mammogram.

While mammograms cannot find all problems, they are very effective. Every woman should be working with her doctor in routine self breast exams. Call your doctor or clinic if you notice any changes in your breasts like lumps, thickening, liquid leaking from the nipple, or changes in nipple appearance.

So, while you're trying on that new swim suit, think about getting that mammogram that might just provide you many more years of fun in the sun... and encourage your loved ones to join you.

Lisa Simpson is a mammography technologist at the Breast Center at St. Mary's Medical Center.