What do I need to know about breast cancer and how would a mammogram benefit me?

For the last several years October has been recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a major health problem—the second leading cause of cancer in women with over 200,000 cases diagnosed each year—this attention is warranted. Many women, however, experience fear out of proportion to their actual risk and often avoid routine screenings. We would like to put the risk of breast cancer into perspective and to emphasize the benefits of screening and the effectiveness of treatment.

As already noted, the incidence of breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in this country. As a treatable disease, however, it ranks as one of the most favorable. For example, as a reflection of treatment, 5-year survival rates are often examined. In regard to lung cancer, this number is 15%; for breast cancer, 86%. And for the last decade or more this percentage has been improving. The reasons for this are found both in mammogram screenings and in advances in treatment.

Mammography has repeatedly been shown to decrease the mortality rate in breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t have regular mammograms, those that do, decrease their risk of dying from the disease by 25-30%. Indeed, in a recent study out of Sweden published in the journal Cancer, researchers found a 45% risk reduction. The reason is that mammography can find breast cancers that are much smaller than what a person can suspect by touch alone; some people estimate they are found 1-2 years before they will be identified by a woman or her healthcare provider. Smaller cancers are more curable as they are more likely to be localized to the breast and not to have spread elsewhere in the body.

Another benefit of screening mammography is that it finds precancerous lesions, most commonly what is called ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS. Identification and treatment of these lesions probably prevents many cases of breast cancer.

It is estimated that approximately 2/3 of the recent reduction of breast cancer mortality is attributed to better screening; the other 1/3 is felt to be due to improved treatment. This emphasizes the need for all women to have regular screening. We added a state-of-the-art GE mammography unit to our practice as soon as we moved to our facility here at Griffin Road three and a half years ago. Our goal was to improve ease of access for women, hoping that more women would have it performed if they could have it done at the same time as their annual exam. We provide a quiet, private area; experienced sensitive mammography technicians; and a commitment to maintaining an accredited facility.

If you or anyone you know needs a mammogram, and all women over the age of 40 are advised to have regular screening, then please call us today. It truly can save your life.