Breast Cancer Screenings
Laurie Schirling, R, OCN, CBPN-IC
Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center
Why is it important for women over 40 to get an annual mammogram?
Early detection of breast cancer is key for preventing the spread of the disease. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the sooner treatment can begin. Studies show that mammogram screenings can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 70 and especially for those over age 50.
Who is at greatest risk of developing breast cancer?
The aging process is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer. That's because the longer we live, there are more opportunities for genetic damage (mutations) in the body. And as we age, our bodies are less capable of repairing genetic damage. Women ages 55 years and older are at the greatest risk for developing breast cancer. However, it is recommended that all women over 40 years old get an annual mammogram. Other factors such as family or personal history of breast cancer, alcohol consumption, obesity, birth control, race and physical activity are also linked to breast cancer.
Why aren’t women under 40 years old required to receive an annual mammogram?
Women under 40 years of age are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer and the reason mammograms are not recommended for women under age 40 is because mammography is not a good screening tool for them. This has to do with age and how breasts change during one’s lifetime, especially after menopause. It is harder to detect cancer in premenopausal women due to the structure of their breasts. This does not mean women under 40 should not pay attention to their breasts; they should. It is important that all women have an annual breast exam by their physician, and that they point out to and discuss with their physician any lump they have found, any pain they feel, or any other signs or symptoms that concern them.
(Research indicates that there has been a slight increase of breast cancer occurring among young women (an increase of 1.37 cases per 100,000 women in 34 years) but more research is needed to verify the finding. This increase could be due to more advanced screenings and better technology.)
How can uninsured or low-income women obtain a low-cost screening mammogram? To help focus attention on the importance of early screening and detection for this potentially fatal disease, Saint Mary’s is offering $100 mammograms through December 31, 2013.