October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month. While many of us will participate in walks and fundraisers to assist research efforts to find a cure, we often forget the most important part of breast cancer awareness—booking your own mammogram to ensure your health and peace of mind.
Who is most at risk for breast cancer?
Breast cancer is predominantly detected in women over the age of 40. Women with a family history of breast cancer have an increased, one-in-four likelihood of diagnosis over patients with no history of the disease, and can be diagnosed far earlier in life. Breast cancer in younger women develops more aggressively, so it is important to be knowledgeable about your family’s medical history and take the appropriate steps to ensure the earliest detection possible. Younger women can also request BCRA gene testing, a type of non-invasive diagnostic test, in order to detect a genetic predisposition to the disease. The only current known risk factors for breast cancer are age, family history, breast lesions, and the presence of the BCRA1 or BCRA2 genetic alteration. However, despite these risk factors, 3 out of 4 women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history or genetic alterations present.
40 versus 50—The Great Debate
Recently debate has arisen in the scientific community over the recommended age for breast cancer screenings. While some doctors are of the opinion that patients can put off mammograms until they are 50 years of age, others disagree. 1 in 6 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women ages 40-49. 40% of women whose lives were saved by an early diagnosis via mammograms are in their 40s. Mammograms, or breast cancer screenings, should be performed when a woman turns 40 years of age, regardless of whether or not they have a history of breast cancer. In particular, patients with the altered BCRA1 or BCRA2 genes have an 85% higher risk of developing cancer, and are more likely to be diagnosed earlier in life. If you have an immediate family member with breast cancer, you should receive an exam a decade earlier than the traditional age.
Based upon the evidence, MIF Doctors, the Radiologists at Radiology Associates of Fredericksburg, encourage women to begin regular mammograms at age 40.
How often are mammograms needed?
Women should receive a mammogram once a year. The type of mammogram which given to patients who are not showing any symptoms is a non-invasive procedure known as a screening mammogram. If performed annually, a mammogram screening can work to diagnose breast cancer before symptoms have even begun to appear, which makes the disease far easier to treat and works to greatly increase chances of survival.
The benefits of a mammogram.
While mammograms do cause momentary discomfort during the few shorts minutes of the screening, the benefits do save lives. Patients who receive breast cancer screenings at the appropriate age (40 for patients without a family history, 30 for patients with close family history) ensure that any cases of breast cancer are diagnosed two years earlier than those who do not receive mammograms. A mammogram breast cancer screening has the capability to diagnose breast cancer before a patient feels a lump or begins to notice any other symptoms of the disease. Patients who receive annual mammograms beginning at 40 years of age lower the likelihood of fatality by 35%. An early diagnosis also allows for the disease to be more treatable, resulting in the ability to remove cancerous growth without the need for more radical surgery.
Possible risks associated with mammograms.
Mammograms, like all forms of X-rays, do involve a very low dosage of radiation, a level which has been long since considered harmless for most women by the FDA. Today’s mammograms involve far less radiation than screenings performed in years past. The American Cancer Society has also noted that an annual mammogram is equivalent to three months of natural radiation exposure from the environment of an average adult woman in the United States. In truth, the most dangerous risk associated with mammograms is of cancer going undiagnosed. The younger the patient, the more difficult it is for a mammogram to accurately diagnosis breast cancer, which is one of the reasons why doctors will often suggest BCRA diagnostic testing. Women should take care to book mammograms around their periods, as swollen breasts can cause additional discomfort to the patient during the process and even make a diagnosis more difficult to achieve.
Different types of mammograms today.
Mammogram technology has evolved to allow for two different types of mammogram screenings, each of which provide unique benefits for patients. 2-D mammogram screenings are now available with digital screening results. Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg (MIF) uses this digital approach to allow doctors to more easily keep track of and compare annual results, and to ensure an exact diagnosis.
The third type of mammogram is a breakthrough in breast screening technology known as 3-D mammography. While 2-D mammograms only allow for images to be taken from the front and side, a 3D mammogram allows for images to be taken from multiple angles, as well as in multiple layers, with a computerized rendering that allows the doctor to examine breast tissue far more accurately and carefully. With a 3-D mammogram, the machine moves in an arc around the breast, allowing for a more complete method of imaging. By closely examining images of the breast tissues, one layer at a time, your doctor can provide a far more accurate and precise breast cancer diagnosis.
With annual mammograms provide by MIF, beginning at the age of 40, you can take the necessary steps to ensure a long and healthy life in the face of breast cancer.