ongoing importance of mammograms

As is the case with many diseases, early detection can be crucial—even life-saving—when it comes to breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers.

Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk increases as you get older.

Encouragingly, the ACS reports that the breast cancer death rate has been trending downward since 1989—a decrease of 43 percent through 2020, which it attributes, in part, to increased awareness and earlier detection of the disease through screening exams, especially mammography.

One in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. The ACS estimated there would be about 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnoses in women, resulting in around 43,250 deaths, in 2022. Those numbers are still far too high.

Mammograms by their nature can do so much when it comes to early detection. While you are probably familiar with at least some of the telltale clinical signs of breast cancer—a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit; a change in skin texture, size, shape, or color around the breast; unusual discharges from the nipple are all common signs—those are actually later signs. A mammogram can indicate cancer up to two to five years before a palpable lump can be detected with a self-examination.

Another fact to keep in mind is that around 70 percent of breast cancer-related deaths are in women who are not undergoing screening mammography.

Who Should Get a Mammogram?
The answer, in short, is every woman. There is no such thing as any woman being low risk for breast cancer; while there are some differences based on factors like a strong family history of the disease and ethnicity, the risk is present for everybody.

Guidelines for when to start regular screening have led to different recommendations from different medical organizations. The American College of Radiology suggests that healthy women without high-risk factors start getting annual mammograms at age 40, but in women with higher risk—such as a strong family history of breast cancer—the appropriate age to start may be even lower (age 30).

For baby boomers and seniors, recommendations on screenings can also differ depending on risk factors, whether you have had breast cancer, or if you have been treated before. When in doubt, for any age, consult with your physician about your path forward.

Another effective screening method is breast ultrasound, which is utilized in women with dense breast tissue. In addition, ultrasound is a relatively easy procedure to undergo, and does not involve radiation or compression.

Don’t Be a Statistic!
Has it been a while since you’ve had a mammogram? Many women missed their annual screening during the pandemic; some experts predict that, as a result, breast cancer-related deaths will increase by as much as 10 percent. Missing or skipping an annual exam—especially as a woman ages—leaves tumors time to grow and to spread.

And don’t forget men! The ACS reports that more than 2,700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and around 520 men die from it.

The most important step you can take is to be proactive about your health and speak with your physician about getting screened for the disease.

There really is no excuse to not maintain (or return to) an annual mammogram schedule. Continuing to drive the numbers down is a critical goal.


{White Plains Hospital}

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