Breast cancer continues to be a leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Detecting the disease early, when it is most treatable, is the key to improving a woman's chance of survival, and using mammography is the best way to detect the disease early, say health officials.

Use of the X-ray test can find breast cancer up to two years before a lump can be felt. But not enough women are getting regular mammograms, participants at a Utah meeting of the American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Task Force were told Wednesday.Speakers at a luncheon gathering in the Salt Lake Hilton Hotel included Dr. Gerald D. Dodd, president of the American Cancer Society and head of the Division of Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Dr. Irena Tocino, chairwoman of the task force and a radiologist at LDS Hospital; and Rep. Paula F. Julander, D-Salt Lake.

Dodd, a pioneer in the field of mammography, said in his talk and during an interview that about one in every nine women will develop breast cancer at some time during her life. About 175,000 cases of breast cancer are expected nationwide this year, with 44,500 of that number resulting in death, he said.

"If caught early and confined to the breast, treatment is very successful. For people who have cancers that are not greater than a centimeter, the survival rates are about 90 percent over 10 years and as long as 20 years," Dodd said.

In his talk, Dodd traced some of the technological and other developments in the field of mammography. The physician outlined the importance of frequent examinations, and he discussed training of technicians and physicians and the accreditation of facilities where the procedure is performed.

He said physicians and patients have to be educated and re-educated to the fact that mammography is widely available, is accurate and can reduce mortality from breast cancer. He said women should be concerned with the quality of the examination and should not be timid in asking testing facilities if they are accredited or in the process of being accredited.

As for screening, the American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram for women ages 35 to 39. The society says that women ages 40 to 49 should have a mammogram every two years. Those age 50 and over should have the examination every year.

Dodd cited the need for continuing education to remind physicians to refer their patients for such examinations.

In the interview, Dodd said the rate of cure for cancer is improving all the time. He said cancer is something that "should be initially looked upon by people with hope, rather than fear. It is estimated that 80 percent of all cancers are related in some way to the environment, and at least 50 percent could be eliminated if we just did some of the things we know - quit smoking, (watch our) diet, exercise (properly) . . . ," Dodd said.

Tocino, who will be succeeded as head of the Utah task force by Dr. Charles Smart, said the price of a screening mammogram in Utah "remains universally low, with all facilities offering screening at or around $60." She said an "economic analysis of breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment costs in Utah is being used as grounds for negotiations with insurance companies and employers to improve and increase women's access to screening mammography."

Julander, who sponsored HB230, a 1991 bill that, among other things, provides for breast cancer screening and certification of mammogram providers, made a strong appeal for efforts to provide screening for more women.

"As community leaders we must keep this issue before the public and continue to press government to help in the fight with research and provide low-cost mammograms for those without insurance or the means to pay for them," said Julander, who also urged parents to take a more active role in preventive health care for themselves and their children.