Even though one out of every eight women is at risk in their lifetime of developing breast cancer, there are millions of breast cancer survivors in the U.S. This means over the past several decades, the rate of dying of breast cancer has declined significantly. This is fantastic news! It is due to a combination of public education efforts, better availability of early detection screening tests (mammogram, ultrasound and MRI) and improved treatments.
Have you had your mammogram yet?
A mammogram, combined with a monthly self-breast examination and a routine clinical breast examination, is the best way to screen for breast cancer. No one likes having a mammogram, but detecting breast cancer at an early stage can have considerable benefits and improve outcomes. Because of screening tests, approximately 60 percent of breast cancers are found at an early and very curable stage. A mammogram is an easy and safe test.
Unfortunately, only approximately 50 percent of U.S. women get their mammograms done. The important first step is for you to talk with your doctor or health care provider to learn more about what you can do for yourself, for a family member, or for a friend.
If a breast cancer or non-invasive breast disease is found, then surgery is often used to remove it, especially when it is small before you can even feel it (hence why mammograms are done, because they can see it). Depending upon the features and extent of the cancer, as well as the type of surgery done, other treatments may be offered to increase the likelihood of being cured, including: chemotherapy, biologic therapy (medicines that target specific features or growth mechanisms of cancer), radiation therapy or hormonal therapy.
These treatments can be very effective, thanks to continued, exciting advances in cancer care. Most people are offered an individualized combination of these different treatment types. It is not a “one size fits all” approach.
There is much that can be done to screen for, diagnosis and treat breast cancer; to provide cancer survivorship care; to care for people affected by breast cancer, and to assess the risks of developing breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, every woman beginning at age 40 should be given the choice of getting annual mammograms. This may start at an earlier age based on family history or other risks factors. Additional types of screening may be used, if needed, such as ultrasound and MRI.
Healthy living is always a good thing, such as remaining physically active, eating right, maintaining a good weight, and limiting the use of alcohol. Any day is a good day to do something to help yourself live healthier and longer!
Dr. Jeffrey A. Gordon is Board Certified in Hematology and Medical Oncology. He works at The Cancer Center at Harrington in Southbridge, MA (508-764-2400) and is a Past President of the Connecticut State, Medical Society.