Facts Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer

Mostly this is due to the recent report released by the United States Preventive Service Task Force which, amongst other things, recommended biennal screening mammography beginning at age 50 instead of age 40 and discouraged applying breast self-exams. Immediately, these recommendations were challenged by The American Cancer Society, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American College of Radiology, the American Society of Breast Disease, and the Susan B. Komen Foundation, just to name a few. With all of this information, it can be confusing for most people to understand the facts about breast cancer and what guidelines should be followed.  Below, I will answer some of the more commom questions about breast cancer and breast cancer screening.

Q) How common is breast cancer?
A) A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 1 in 8. Only lung cancer causes more cancer deaths in women. Each year about 240,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed (one every 2.5 minutes). Sadly, 40,000 women die from breast cancer each year (one death every 13 minutes).

Q) How effective is mammography screening? 
A) Screening mammography reduces breast cancer mortality by 25-30% for women ages 50-70 and 18% for women ages 40-50. Early detection is incredibly important. The 12-year survival rate is 95% for cancers detected that are less than 1 centimeter in size.

Q) What are the screening guidelines?
A) Women should have a yearly screening mammogram beginning at age 40. Women should perform a breast self-examination each month.

Q) If the technology is so good for detecting breast cancer, why do I have to perform breast self-exams? 
A) Breast self-exams are extremely important! Approximately 5% of breast cancers cannot be visualized on imaging and are only detectable with physical exam.

Q) Why did this Preventive Service Task Force make their recommendations? 
A) In an attempt to be efficient with limited resources, a decision was made to lower the detection rate sensitivity from 90% to 70%! Any limitation in screening will increase the rate of breast cancer mortality. In my opinion, this is unacceptable. 

Q) Why is bringing my prior  mammograms important? 
A) Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between dense breast tissue and cancer. Prior mammograms allow a radiologist to determine what is stable, benign breast tissue and what is cancer. 

Q) Is there a difference between digital and analog mammography? 
A) I wrote about this topic in length in my last article, so I will just say that digital mammography is considered superior in breast cancer detection both due to sharper resolution as well as overall reduced radiation exposure.