October 19, 2021
By Katherine Hall, MD, Family Medicine Physician at Athens Family Practice
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the U.S., behind only skin cancers. In fact, the ACS puts the average risk as a one in eight chance that a woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. And according to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is now the most common cancer globally, claiming 12 percent of new cancer cases. Breast cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer death in women, superseded only by lung cancer.
So, that’s some not-so-good news. How about some good news? Those death rates have been steadily dropping. Statistics show that the overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by one percent each year from 2013 to 2018. Now, the question is “why?” Well, the decreases have been associated with several factors, including better treatments and earlier detection through screenings.
Here’s some more good news. You can get screened by scheduling a simple, routine mammogram. A mammogram takes only about one hour, once a year, but it’s benefits can last much longer. Mammograms help detect breast cancer earlier than waiting for symptoms to appear. That’s an incredibly important weapon in the fight against breast cancer because that early detection can result in an easier and more effective treatment if cancer is discovered.
While there are certain risk factors for breast cancer – including lifestyle-related risks, as well as some risk factors you cannot change, like your family medical history – some breast cancer patients have no risk factors or even any symptoms. And 85 percent of breast cancer cases are in women with no family history of the disease. That’s why early detection is so vital to finding and treating breast cancer.
If you are a woman 40 and older, you should be including an annual mammogram in your yearly health journey. If you are at higher risk, you may need to begin annual screenings sooner. Some of those risk factors include genetic mutations, having dense breasts, certain reproductive histories, being overweight after menopause, a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, a personal history of radiation therapy or hormone replacement therapy, a history with the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) and a lack of physical activity.
As with other health issues, it’s important to have a discussion with your trusted provider about your lifestyle and risks and to determine the right time for you to begin annual breast cancer screening.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so if you haven’t already scheduled your mammogram for the year, now is a great time to get it on your calendar and get the peace of mind that comes from taking charge of your health. It’s one hour a year that could save your life.
If you would like to schedule a mammogram or talk with a provider about your breast health, visit the "Specialties" tab. For more information on breast cancer and mammograms, visit breastcancer.org and cdc.gov/cancer/breast.