With numerous studies, such as those by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, showing that preventative steps now can prevent expensive medical care later, it's important to stay ahead of avoidable medical situations. For women, regular physicals are part of the tools available to help them. And that includes mammograms.

At the age of 43 Karen Ray, a registered radiology technician at Ireland Army Health Clinic on Fort Knox, felt a lump in her breast. She said she performed regular self-exams and had known she had a cyst--but then it changed.

At first she was in self-denial about the possibility that it could be breast cancer. In fact not only was she in denial, so was her husband who kept saying it was probably all a mistake. Right up until the surgeon gave them a firm diagnosis and a date for surgery.

"After that he was right there the whole time, supporting and encouraging and helping do whatever we needed to do," she recalled.

She said that she, like many women, hesitated to get a mammogram but fought the fear of a diagnosis and got checked out. She knew she could not live with the regret of not doing something and the possibility of missing out on life's most enjoyable experiences. Those moments include more time with her husband, two grown children and her new pride and joy, a two month old grandson.

Ray was diagnosed with breast cancer and received a double mastectomy with breast implants, but she said she is thankful for her strong support group--which included her coworkers--and she keeps a positive attitude and her faith in God, family and her healthcare team.

"You need to take your health in your own hands and do your self-breast exams, get a yearly mammogram, eat right and exercise. Early detection is the key to survival," said Ray. "You have to take care of 'you.'" If you can't take care of you, you can't care for your family and as women, our families are our first loves."

Now, thanks to a new policy from the Radiology Department at Ireland Army Health Clinic, women who have an active, designated primary care provider at IRAHC can self-refer/request a mammogram.

Maj. (Dr.) Aimee Wilson, the chief of radiology at IRAHC, said she and her compassionate and knowledgeable team are encouraging woman to get their exams--and since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, why not start now?

"We can't emphasize enough the importance of yearly mammograms for woman 40 years and older," said Wilson. "Getting a mammogram is a quick examination and is the least you can do to reassure yourself and your loved ones."

Women who routinely get mammograms have the best chances of improving their survival from breast cancer at the earliest of stages, she added. With a state of the art Digital Mammogram machine a mammogram only takes moments to perform with minimal discomfort. The positive lasting effect of completing one, and each year after, contributes to the remarkable breast cancer survival rates.

Many women know at least one breast cancer survivor, whether it is a relative, friend, or coworker. In speaking to one of those courageous women anyone can understand how passionate they feel about the need to receive a mammogram every year.

Wilson said she works with several women at IRAHC, like Ray, who are alive today because they had the courage to take control of their health and complete a mammogram. And they encourage other women to do the same.

Jackie Cox and Dawn Clark, two certified mammography technicians at IRAHC and part of Ray's support system, said they see the fear and anxiety in women's faces every day when they come to get their mammogram. Both technicians have a special relationship with their patients and said they always take the time to explain the exam and coach the patients through it.

The majority of the women Cox and Clark said they take care of leave from their mammogram appointment saying, "it's not as bad as I thought."

To break down the odds, the staff said, of a total of 50 women that get a mammogram only 10 percent of those women receive additional imaging, and of those women only 1-2 percent of those women are referred for a biopsy. It is a small fraction of that percent of those women that actually receive a diagnosis of cancer.

"The majority of women in which we find breast cancer do not have a family history of it," Cox added. "But it doesn't matter how older you are, as long as you are in good health you should get a yearly mammogram."

If you have not had a mammogram in the last year, waiting only causes someone who receives a positive diagnosis to wish that they had gotten a mammogram sooner, Clark noted.

"Don't be that woman. Have the courage to take charge of your health," she said.

Cox and Clark said that statistic show a person's No. 1 risk for breast cancer is--being a female.

Fort Knox will host Retiree Appreciation Day Oct. 21 at the Saber & Quill. Wilson said she Ray, Cox and Clark will be on hand to answer questions about mammograms, self-breast exams, what to expect when a patient is scheduled for a mammogram and answer any questions.

"We will also provide breast cancer risk assessments," she added. "The public is welcome to stop by and learn more about breast cancer screening resources and information."