When I was a medical student in the 1970’s, a diagnosis of breast cancer was tantamount to a death sentence. We have come a very long way since then and now breast cancer is curable. The survival rate when it is detected early is 93 percent.
The key as you can see is to detect it early. How do we do that? The answer is mammography. From my own experience with my patients I can say that the last several breast cancers I have detected were not palpable. No one could feel them, not me and not my patients. They were very small and very treatable.
There have been many different recommendations in the last few years and that has made it confusing. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends mammograms start at age 50, and are done every one to two years based on risk. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends they start at 40 and are done yearly. Breast self exam is optional.
Here is the problem as I see it with the USPSTF recommendations. When breast cancer is detected in younger women prior to menopause it is usually a more aggressive form of cancer. If women from age 40 to 50 wait 10 years for their first mammogram it will potentially be too late to catch it early if they have a developing cancer.
I agree with the ACS. I recommend that my patients start yearly mammograms at age 40. The amount of radiation is small and the potential lifesaving benefits are great. There is no way around it. Mammograms save lives and ultimately quality of lives.
I agree that it is not the most comfortable test in the world. I remember one time when the technician lifted me up so high on the breast press that I was on my tiptoes and then dangling off the ground! That was not good. Since then I ask for someone who has a better position sense.
My advice is to find the best breast-imaging center in your area and make sure you go yearly starting at age 40. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer you may need to start earlier. The bottom line is to make mammography part of your yearly wellness plan.
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