Breast Cancer Awareness Month — early detection saves lives


About one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. That’s a mind-boggling 12 percent. October is breast cancer awareness month, providing an excellent opportunity to spread the word and raise the funds needed to push us closer to a cure for breast cancer.  At the same time, this month must also serve as a reminder of the critical, life-saving importance of consistent and well-informed self-care practices.

Too often, medical misinformation and a failure to prioritize check-ups prevent women from taking the steps necessary to ensure that they remain cancer-free. The ability to identify cancer in its early stages is particularly important given that survival rates for women with Stage 0 or Stage 1 breast cancer are close to 100 percent, but decline to 72 percent by Stage 3, and to 22 percent after metastasis has occurred. A six-month or yearlong delay in receiving a mammogram can significantly alter not only the odds of defeating breast cancer, but also the severity of the treatments required to do so.

{mosads}Breast cancer awareness month should serve as a rallying cry for the medical community to double down on its efforts to provide women with accurate information and make sure they get regularly checked. 

Regular mammograms and check-ups are important for all women, regardless of family and personal health history. While the breast cancer gene can certainly raise the odds of developing breast cancer, nearly three-quarters of diagnosed women have no family history of breast cancer on either side of the family. And while the practice of healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet, can mitigate the risk of breast cancer, it certainly does not eliminate it. While women with a family history of breast cancer or unhealthy habits are more likely to develop breast cancer, the sad truth is that every woman is at significant risk.

Women also cannot rely on breast exams to substitute for mammograms. Breast exams are an excellent tool for detecting masses, but cannot capture breast cancer in its early and most treatable phases — something that only a mammogram or an ultrasound can do. Nor does the absence of any physical lumps or the prevalence of physical pain in a lump mean that you are cancer-free.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason to delay receiving a mammogram because of age. Many women choose to wait until age 50 to start regular screening, ignoring the fact that one our of six women with breast cancer are actually in their 40s. Nor should women wait until they show symptoms to get tested. Mammograms and ultrasounds are capable of detecting breast cancer years before noticeable symptoms are produced. The recommended age for an average risk woman to get her mammogram is 40. Early detection truly does save lives and limits the need for more taxing treatments, such as chemotherapy, that the later stages of breast cancer require. 

Medical science has evolved to produce incredibly effective breast cancer treatments. However, the success of these treatments often hinges on catching breast cancer before it enters its more dangerous phases. Doctors and nurses cannot wait on women to recognize the need for consistent mammograms and check-ins. They must do their part to ensure that women are aware of all the facts surrounding breast cancer detection, and strongly encourage them to safely monitor their health. Websites and printouts are useful tools of encouragement, but an urgent message from a trusted, personal medical professional can go so much further in convincing women to set aside time to get examined.

It is true that breast cancer screening can be nerve-wracking, time-consuming, and difficult to fit into your schedule. But this October, we’ll celebrate and recognize the lives of the 40,000 women who die each year from breast cancer. Do your friends, your family, and yourself a favor — and make sure you schedule the mammograms that can save your life.

Dr. Donna-Marie Manasseh is the Director of Breast Surgery at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Breast cancer Breast cancer awareness mammogram
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