Breast Cancer Awareness Month will soon be upon us during the month of October. This is a time dedicated to raising awareness about the disease, which affects about 1 in 8 women in the United States over the course of their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches, Saint Joseph Berea, part of KentuckyOne Health, is encouraging women to learn more about screenings and early detection.
While breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, statistics show many women are beating the disease. Breast cancer death rates have decreased in older women, according to the American Cancer Society, which is believed to be a result of screenings and better treatment.
“Early detection is key to saving lives,” said Mary-Ellen Shields, MD, KentuckyOne Health Surgery Associates. “While breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, some women may not experience any symptoms, which is why regular breast cancer screenings are important, to help catch cancer in the early stages.”
The American College of Radiology recommends women begin annual mammogram screenings starting at age 40 – even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer. For women with a personal or family history of breast cancer, including the BRCA genetic mutation, the risk is elevated and earlier screenings may be recommended.
“Common risk factors for breast cancer include being a woman over the age of 60, having a family history of the disease or inherited gene mutations, obesity, not having children, high breast density, benign breast conditions, women who start menstruation at an early age, heavy drinking, lack of physical activity, using oral contraceptives, or using combined hormone therapy after menopause,” said Dr. Shields. “It’s important to talk to a physician about a screening if you are at risk for the disease.”
There are two screening options that may be recommended for breast cancer, including digital mammography and tomosynthesis. Traditional 2D digital mammography can be manipulated by the radiologist to get a better view of shadows, light and contrast. This can help identify whether a spot is a mass that needs to be investigated further, or simply an area of dense breast tissue.
Tomosynthesis, more commonly known as 3D mammography, was approved by the FDA in 2011 and has become another valuable tool in breast cancer detection. Tomosynthesis creates multiple slices of the breast tissue, giving reviewing physicians a clear vision of a mass that may be clouded by complex, overlapping breast tissue. This tool is especially useful for women with moderate to extremely dense breast tissue.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches, make the time to schedule a mammogram if you are over age 40 or have risk factors for breast cancer. Getting a screening can help detect cancer early-on, and give you peace of mind.