As we begin October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s take advantage of
this chance to stress the importance of early breast cancer detection. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force withdrew its support for screening mammography for women ages 40-49. Many organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology, rejected their conclusions and recommendations and continue to stress the need for an annual screening mammography for women, beginning at age 40.
Since, 2009, there has been extensive media coverage over the controversy surrounding screening mammography. Women are forced to make a personal choice about the age and frequency of getting screened. We hope the following information will help you make an informed decision:
• One out of eight women will develop breast cancer. The greatest risk factors are being female and growing older.
• Breast cancer is the most invasive cancer in women and the top cause of cancer deaths in women.
• Women with first degree relatives with breast cancer are at increased risk, but 70% of all
newly diagnosed patients have no family history of breast cancer.
• Women in their 40’s and early 50’s do develop breast cancer and it may be more aggressive and grow more rapidly than cancers in women in their 60’s and 70’s.
• The average size of a breast cancer discovered on a screening mammogram is 1 cm (a small marble). The average size of a breast cancer discovered by a clinical breast exam is 2.2 cm (more than double the size of cancers detected with mammography).
• Small breast cancers are easier to treat and patients with smaller tumors often have a variety of options. Women with small cancers that have not spread to areas outside the breast have a 5 year survival rates of >98%.
Screening mammography is the most carefully studied test in medical history. It is the only screening method proven to decrease breast cancer deaths by 30%. In a perfect world, screening mammography would detect every breast cancer and an appointment at the breast center would be enjoyable and eagerly anticipated. The exam requires the use of radiation to produce an image and the breast must be gently squeezed between plastic paddles to reduce motion and radiation exposure. Ten percent of women who have a screening exam will be asked to return for additional imaging and these call backs can create stress and anxiety for patients. A select group of women will require needle biopsy and about 70% of the lesions that are selected for biopsy are benign. Screening mammography does not detect every breast cancer, especially in women with large amounts of dense glandular tissue; and large numbers of women must be screened in order to detect a small number of cancers.
Screening mammography is not perfect but it is, by far, the best weapon available in the war against breast cancer. Please support ongoing efforts to: find better screening methods, better utilize ultrasound and breast MRI as complementary problem solving tools, find a cure, and discover a prevention that will eliminate breast cancer as a life threatening disease. For now, we urge you to stay informed. The American Cancer Society recommends screening mammograms every year, beginning at age 40.
We are honored to participate in your care. Our staff is dedicated to providing comprehensive and compassionate care and to making your screening experience as comfortable as possible.