There is a lot of media coverage around the importance of breast cancer awareness and mammography in October, yet Idaho continues to have one of the lowest rates of screening mammography in the United States. Do women really believe that regular screenings make a difference?
Regular breast cancer screenings do make a difference. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. There are more than 250,000 diagnoses and more than 40,000 deaths from breast cancer each year — making breast cancer the second-leading cause of cancer death in women.
In the U.S., the average age of a woman with breast cancer is 61, and factors such as family history or a previous atypical biopsy can increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
This is why early detection is so important. The extent or stage breast cancer is in at the time of diagnosis directly correlates with survival rate. If the breast cancer is contained just to the breast at the time of diagnosis, then the average five-year survival is 98 percent.
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If it is confined to the breast and the lymph nodes, then the average five-year survival decreases to 84 percent.
Once the breast cancer has spread throughout the body, or metastasized, the average five-year survival is 25 percent.
In other words, the earlier a cancer can be detected and treated, the better the chance of curing the cancer.
Mammograms can detect cancer far earlier
Screening mammograms have been in widespread use across the U.S. for approximately 30 years. Over that period of time, data has shown that the routine use of screening mammograms is associated with a 20 percent reduction in death from breast cancer, and in some European countries it has been shown to reduce death from breast cancer by up to 30 percent.
The reason that mammograms reduce the risk of death from breast cancer is that routine mammograms help to find breast cancers when they are small, and so it decreases the number of women diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer.
Less cancer treatment
Research has shown that women who undergo routine screening mammograms are more likely to be able to undergo a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, are less likely to need additional treatments after surgery (such as chemotherapy) and are less likely to have their tumors recur.
So early detection with regular screening mammograms not only leads to less treatment, but also improves the chances of survival from breast cancer.
Easy, quick appointments
Given the fact that mammograms are a quick process (less than 10 minutes), are more comfortable than ever and are readily available throughout the Treasure Valley, there is no reason to put off this important and potentially life-saving screening exam.
In addition to mammograms, there are also a few ways you can help prevent breast cancer every day. Although you cannot control your genetic risk of getting breast cancer, the following lifestyle modifications can help lower your overall risk:
Exercise: Daily exercise of 30 minutes or more a day can reduce risk.
Weight control: There is a link between obesity and increased risk. Weight control, along with exercise, provides a double bonus in lowering risks.
Alcohol intake: There is also a link between alcohol intake and your risk. Try to limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or less.
Diet: There is limited data to support the assumption that a low-fat diet lowers the risk of breast cancer. Although the benefits of a low-fat diet in terms of lowering risk of breast cancer are inconclusive, we still support a low-fat diet for its overall health benefit. For recipes, visit our Health eCooking website. Or for more information on a low-fat diet, visit www.americanheart.org.
Avoidance of hormone replacement therapy (HRT): There is a small, but definite, increased risk of developing breast cancer if a woman chooses to take HRT after natural or surgical menopause. Avoiding using HRT can possibly reduce this risk. The decision to use HRT, however, is a personal choice based on quality-of-life issues and health reasons.
Dr. Elizabeth Prier, FACS, is a breast surgeon with Saint Alphonsus Health System. Learn more about Saint Alphonsus at www.saintalphonsus.org.