October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Regardless of race or ethnicity, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with approximately one in eight women developing the disease over the course of her lifetime.

However, there is good news: Today, fewer women are dying from breast cancer.

“In the past 10 years, the death rates from breast cancer have dropped an average of 1.9% per year, while the rate of breast cancer diagnoses has been stable,” according to the Office on Women’s Health inside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Federally funded research, increased screenings, and new and improved treatments have saved lives and improved women’s quality of life when they are confronted with a breast cancer diagnosis.”

Breast cancer death rates peaked more than 30 years ago in 1985 at 32.98 per 100,000 women. At that time, mastectomy was the most commonly accepted surgical treatment for breast cancer. Jumping ahead to 2019, new cancer treatments and screenings are finding the disease earlier, with the death rate continuing its decline to 21.98 per 100,000. Breast-conserving surgery and radiation treatment have replaced mastectomy as the most commonly accepted treatment for early breast cancer detection.

Those statistics highlight the importance of October serving as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and has played in raising the profile of screenings and early detection measures among the public. Not coincidentally, the rate of breast cancer deaths began its descent following the establishment of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1985. Created as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries, the goal of the awareness campaign has been to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the battle against breast cancer. Using the pink ribbon as its symbol, a variety of events around the world are held between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31 to spread a message of the importance of preventative screening and early detection.

A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breasts used to screen for tumors or other abnormalities. Mammograms play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths. A mammogram can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes. How often you should have a mammogram depends on your age and your risk of breast cancer. The Mayo Clinic offers these general guidelines for when to begin mammography screening:

  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer: Many women begin mammograms at age 40 and have them every one to two years; however, professional groups differ on recommendations. The American Cancer Society advises women with an average risk to begin screening mammograms yearly at age 45 until age 54 and then continue every two years. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women start screening every two years starting at age 50 until age 74. Yet both of these groups agree that women can choose to be screened starting at age 40.

  • Women with a higher risk of breast cancer:Women at a higher risk of breast cancer may benefit by beginning screening mammograms before age 40. Talk to your doctor about evaluating your individual risk of breast cancer. Your risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer or a history of precancerous breast lesions, may lead your doctor to recommend magnetic resonance imaging in combination with mammograms.

Patients unsure of whether they may be at a normal risk or high risk of breast cancer should consult their physician through the Great Lakes Bay Health Centers. For more information, visit greatlakesbayhealthcenters.org

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