By: Chris Bauer MD
Chances are you probably know someone whose life has been impacted by breast cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that 1 in every 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Males make up at least 10% of all people that are diagnosed. Although the mortality rate from breast cancer has decreased significantly in the last 50 years, even one death from breast cancer is too many. Due to the increased frequency of breast cancer, regular screenings and awareness of the symptoms are essential to maintaining every women’s health.
It is important that women know if they are at greater risk of developing breast cancer in their lives. Patients who have higher risk of developing breast cancer should be in consultation with their doctors to see what cancer prevention strategies are possible. Women with higher risk include those who have a history of breast cancer in their family, have a personal history of BRCA mutation, have never had a baby, have had late menopause or have previously had breast biopsies with Atypical hyperplasia or Lobular carcinoma insitu. Additionally, women who have increased Body Mass Index (BMI), smoke or have radiation therapy to the chest for other malignancies are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Other risk factors exist for breast cancer for both males and females and patients should consult their physicians for more information.
The mammogram is a valuable tool in breast cancer screening. A mammogram is the test that is most commonly used in the detection of breast cancer. The test is an x-ray of the breast that will show if there are any abnormal areas in the breast tissue. Generally, mammograms are well tolerated by most people and there is minimal discomfort. There is a small amount of radiation that is absorbed with each test and most physicians would agree that the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks.
Although regular screening for breast cancer is strongly recommended, there has not been consensus in the medical community on what that should be. Patients should be familiarized with the symptoms of breast cancer by their doctor and should report to their physician immediately if they have these symptoms. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and The American Cancer Society recommend that women should begin mammogram screening at age 40yo and repeat that testing every 1-2 years depending on the patient risk factors. The US Preventive Task Force recommends screening every 2 years starting at age 50. Regardless of what guidelines patients and their doctors utilize, a shared decision-making process should be employed. Each patient screening regimen should be tailored to their individual medical history and their personal risk factors for breast cancer. Women who have a higher risk of getting breast cancer may require breast ultrasounds or a breast MRI yearly added to their screening plan. For women who have “dense breasts” on mammogram, a breast ultrasound may be ordered as an adjunct test to improve the cancer detection rate.
Worldwide, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a global initiative organized by thousands of charities and companies to educate, empower and to raise awareness about breast cancer. Pink is the color often worn by supporters this month to show their support for this worthy endeavor. Locally the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society have a full list of local activities and listing of how people can get involved this month to support this cause. For more information or to donate, please go to www.cancer.org/breast and www.Nationalbreastcancer.org .