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Women are masters of multi-tasking. Often a busy lifestyle and responsibilities cause them to put their health on the back-burner. Family and work come first. They juggle work calls while in the carpool line. Then homework and dinner. Their calendars may be full of errands, meetings, and extracurricular events.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s a time to remind women that it’s vital to talk to their doctor about early breast cancer screening and detection. We’re reminding women that they can’t take care of their households if they don’t take care of themselves first! 

Put your mask on first 

Among women, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer. In 2017, it’s predicted that there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer. But, there is hope. If caught early, in stage zero or one, the five-year relative survival rate is close to 100 percent.

The key to catching breast cancer early is through screening and detection by mammography.

Value of Mammograms

Mammograms are a type of breast imaging. Low dose-x-rays are used to look inside the breast to check for abnormalities in density or mass. This is the most useful way to catch breast cancer early. Mammograms with improved early treatments have reduced breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by almost 40 percent since 1990.

 

Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screening guidelines differ based on age and risk level. Beginning at age 40, it is important to talk to your doctor about the benefits of mammography. 

Women who do not have any family history of breast or ovarian cancer are thought to have an average risk. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests these guidelines for average-risk women:

  • Women aged 50 to 74 years should have a mammogram every other year

How do I know if I am at high risk that might require earlier screening?

Risk level is increased by having any blood relatives who have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer, especially any who got cancer at a young age; or if you have a known genetic mutation such as BRCA. 

More resources to assess your risk level:

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says these women may benefit from screening in their 40s or earlier. If you fall in this grouping, talk to your health care provider to decide the best course of action for you.

All women should continue to have breast cancer screenings while in good health.

Breast Cancer Screening By Race and Ethnicity

Breast cancer does not discriminate by race or ethnicity. That’s why it’s important for all women to get their regularly scheduled mammograms. There is a frightful amount of women who fail to take this preventative measure. Here are some stats that may surprise you:

Women of screening age who have NOT had a mammogram in the past two years:

  • African-America women: 31 percent
  • White women: 35 percent
  • Hispanic women: 39 percent
  • American Indian/Alaska Native women: 40 percent
  • Asian women: 41 percent

While breast cancer tumors can vary based on race and ethnicity, mammograms are still the best way to spot them early and increase chances of successful remission.

There is no doubt that proper screening can help increase the five-year survival rate for breast cancer. If you have not talked to your doctor, set a time to talk about your breast cancer risk and screening options. Your family and your health are important. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take these preventative measures.

Use our Find a Doctor tool to find a primary care provider near you and start the conversation about breast cancer screening.  Primary care providers include family physicians, internal medicine, and OB/GYN.

 

Dr. Larry Wu

About Dr. Larry Wu

Larry Wu, MD is a regional medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and provides consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He is a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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