Breast Cancer Awareness Month
One of the most isolating experiences that a patient can have is the feelings that can follow a diagnosis of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, with skin cancers being the most common. Approximately 180,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually, accounting for about 48,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Breast cancer can vary in its presentation, some patients may either have nipple discharge, feel a noticeable lump, have skin changes over the breast, or simply notice a difference between the breasts. That said, breast cancer is not one of those conditions that you will necessarily always have symptoms; often time, the clinical manifestations of breast cancer can be silent.
A mammogram is an x-ray image of your breasts that can be used either for breast cancer screening or for diagnostic purposes. During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out the breast tissue while images are obtained. Woman ages 50-74 with average risk of getting breast cancer are recommended to have biennial mammograms stating at age 50. For women above the age of 40, certain risk factors and family history will determine whether your physician will recommend screening with a mammogram. The benefit of mammograms is that early detection of breast cancers has been linked to fewer breast cancer deaths; another benefit is that early detection of breast cancers allows earlier treatment or cancers that are found. We utilize this type of screening rather than having patient perform breast self-examinations because there can be more false positive findings with breast self-examinations. False positive self-screens can lead to anxiety and possible invasive follow up testing. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) thus recommend against women performing breast self-examinations. Therefore, mammograms are critical components of your overall health maintenance similar to getting your regular vaccinations, pap smears, and daily exercise.
October is breast cancer awareness month and many people around the world are currently wearing pink to support those with breast cancer. During this month the focus of the movement is to educate everyone to know their personal risk and to get screened if necessary. Screening for breast cancer with a mammogram is the most effective method that we have to prevent breast cancer and its associated complications. I recommend getting this screen to all my patients for whom the screening would be warranted.
Dr. Benjamin is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.