October is breast cancer awareness month. It is a worldwide campaign to spread awareness of the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed globally. Approximately 40,000 women die of breast cancer in the US per year. Since the early 1990s though, breast cancer mortality has been declining. This is likely due to screening measures that highlight the importance of early detection, as well as new treatment modalities.
The exact cause of most breast cancers is unknown, though several risk factors exist. These include hereditary conditions or strong family history, certain pre-cancerous conditions, a history of chest radiation, hormonal therapy, obesity, dense breasts, and heavy alcohol use. Certain reproductive factors also increase risk, including a younger age at menarche, not having any children, not breastfeeding, and late pregnancies.
There is no question that early detection can help prevent death from breast cancer. Screening refers to the use of certain tests to detect cancer early in people who do not have any symptoms. The mammogram is the most common screening modality used to detect breast cancer. It is essentially a dedicated X-ray of the breast. It is reported via a grading system used to identify abnormalities in the breast tissue.
When should I get a Mammogram?
The question of when to start screening for breast cancer remains controversial. The American Cancer Society recommends women aged 45 and up should get yearly screening mammograms and women aged 40-44 should have the choice to do yearly mammograms if they wish to. Women aged 55 and up can switch to screening mammograms every 2 years. The United States Preventative Services task Force is slightly more conservative recommending screening to begin at age 50. Women with greater risk factors such as hereditary conditions like the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation may also require breast MRI for screening. Self-breast exams can be helpful but must be followed with an evaluation by a physician
If you are at age, consider getting a screening mammogram. It can save lives. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about special screening methods. If you are having symptoms, seek help from your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Wear pink this October and help raise awareness of breast cancer, a disease that affects so many of us.