Any kind of cancer is intimidating but breast cancer tends to hit a little too close to home for women. When should you go in for your first mammogram? What is important to look out for on your body? What are the facts? We asked Dr. Chuck Horner (Radiologist) to fill us in and answer some of these questions for you. Take a look at what he has to say regarding breast cancer – it could save your life!
What are the chances?
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. Breast cancer can occur both in women and in men, but it is far more common in women.
The rate of breast cancer has increased significantly since I was in medical school. The occurrence statistic was around 1 out of 11 back in the mid 80s. This number has risen since then with around 1 out of 8 women experiencing breast cancer.
The number of deaths from breast cancer are decreasing however, thanks in part to mammography. The goal of mammography is to find the breast cancer when it is smaller which allows for much more effective treatment and less harm to the patient. When breast cancers are found earlier by mammography, there is a better chance that the cancer cells have not spread to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes in the arm pit area. Often when the breast cancer is large enough to be felt by the patient or physician, it has already spread to the lymph nodes and possibly other parts of the body, decreasing the chance of survival. There is a 30-40% decrease in death from breast cancer in women who have mammography performed in both breasts starting at the age of 40. The vast majority of women who die from breast cancer have never participated in the getting annual screening mammograms. Seventy-five percent of women who have died from breast cancer are women who did not get their annual mammograms.
Mammography is not perfect in finding all breast cancers early, but it is much better at finding cancers before they can be felt in the breast. The chance of dying from breast cancer is much lower if you are getting annual mammograms. It should be known that sometimes after getting your screening mammogram, you may have to go back and get some extra mammogram pictures or an ultrasound to help clarify some of the findings identified on the original mammogram.
Though there is some discrepancy in recommendations, the American College of Radiology recommends getting a mammogram every year beginning at the age of 40. The original mammogram is often obtained at the age of 35 as a baseline study. If everything is okay with the original mammogram, a mammogram every year beginning at age 40 is recommended.
Obviously, if there are concerning findings in your breast before the age of 40, you should consult your doctor immediately. Some of the potential symptoms include a breast lump or thickening, change in size, shape and appearance of the breast, skin dimpling, newly inverted nipple and skin changes around the nipple including scaling, crusting and an orange color to the skin.
Though not perfect, mammography is the most helpful tool in increasing your odds of surviving breast cancer. I would recommend talking to your primary care doctor for help in making decisions in your breast care.
Are you concerned about the possibility of breast cancer? Do you need to get a checkup but aren’t sure where to start?
Don’t wait until it’s too late – call your doctor today to schedule an appointment. Every day that you wait could have a negative impact on your health!