Dr. Elgar speaks about the importance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
One of the goals of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to educate people about this prevalent disease and the steps women can take to aid in early detection. Many people may not be aware that breast cancer is still the second leading cause of all cancer-related deaths among American women. It is estimated that about 50,000 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed each year with breast cancer. Survival is at it’s highest when the cancer is detected early and is still very small and confined to the breast. With this goal in mind, routine breast cancer screening is advised. The recommendations can be broken down into 3 equally important parts.
First is “breast self-awareness”. This concept has evolved over time and emphasizes a woman knowing how her breasts normally look and feel. It is important for women to be alert to any changes, no matter how small, in their breasts and to report them to their doctor. It is estimated that 50% of breast cancer cases in women 50 years and older are detected by the women themselves. This number rises to 70% of all cases in women younger than 50.
The next component of screening is annual clinical exams by your doctor. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that women 40 and older should have a physician perform a breast exam every year. Even in women younger than 40, it is still important to have an exam every 1-3 years. It is also important during this time to inform your doctor about any family history of breast or ovarian cancer since it may mean that you need additional breast cancer screening due to higher risk.
The final element is breast imaging with mammograms. ACOG recommends that all women obtain mammograms every year starting at age 40. Mammograms are able to detect changes in the breast as small as the head of a pin. It is sensitive enough that breast cancer can be found almost 1-2 years before the tumor causes any symptoms. When the cancer is found this early, the 5-year survival is 98%. Some women may become anxious after a mammogram because they get a callback that additional imaging is recommended. What this means is that the radiologist saw something different on the scan and would like another view to make sure it is not suspicious for cancer. This is very common and close to 50% of women will receive a callback at least once in their lives. It is important to follow up with these exams because they can save lives.
If you ever have any questions or concerns about your breasts or screening recommendations, please talk with your health care provider. We at FVWCHP are more than happy to help and encourage you to take an active role in supporting your health.