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Cancer Care: Screening Mammography Saves Lives

Cancer Care: Screening Mammography Saves Lives

Written By: Zoe Brown, MD, Valley Health Radiologist 

Breast cancer is a disease that affects an overwhelming number of women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. For the year of 2021, 333,490 new cases and 44,130 breast cancer deaths are expected nationwide. We are all touched by this disease.

As a radiologist, I have seen countless women come through the doors of the Winchester Medical Center Diagnostic Center with advanced breast cancer. I see myself, my family, and my friends in their stories. I often wish that I could pull these women aside before they ever felt a breast lump or experienced any symptoms of breast cancer and talk to them about screening mammograms.

I wish that I could sit down and talk to all the young women busy raising children and prioritizing sports games and pediatrician visits who think that they are too young to get breast cancer. I would tell them that 1 in 6 breast cancers occur in women between the ages of 40-49.

I would pull aside all the women who don’t think the recommendations apply to them because no one in their family has ever had breast cancer. I would tell them that 3 out of 4 women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and are not considered high risk.

I would sit down with the busy hardworking women who are reluctant to take days off from work or to leave the sick and elderly loved ones they are caring for to get a mammogram. I would gently remind them that they need to prioritize their health too.

I would tell the women who think they are too old for mammograms and no longer need to come in yearly, that breast cancer screening in women ages 75 years and older has continued benefits. There is no upper limit to screening unless severe comorbidities exist.

I would pull aside women of color and tell them that they are at greater risk of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at younger ages and at greater risk of dying of the disease than their white counterparts. I would explain that women of color have higher rates of BRCA gene mutations and have twice the incidence of aggressive triple negative cancers than non-Hispanic white women. I would acknowledge that women of color have barriers to health care and historically lower rates of screening mammograms. I would tell them that all women, especially women of color, should have a risk assessment by age 30 to identify if they fall into a higher risk category.

Most importantly, I would urge all of these mothers, sisters, teachers, caregivers, and grandmothers to get a screening mammogram every year starting at age 40. I would urge them to come in every year when they are feeling well, before they notice any problem.

Annual screening mammography is the best tool we have to save lives through early detection. By finding cancers at smaller sizes and at earlier stages, we have better surgical options and more effective chemotherapy. With regular screening, we can reduce breast cancer deaths by 40%.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a time to rest an unflinching gaze on this issue; to acknowledge the preponderance of this disease, to assess our personal risk, and to understand the best tools we have to fight this disease. It is a great time to schedule your annual mammogram.

Valley Health offers mammography at all 6 of our hospital imaging locations, and at Valley Health | Spring Mills. Schedule by calling 855-724-3384.