Haims: Saving lives for over 50 years
Since the 1960s, the practice of utilizing mammograms for early detection of breast cancer has been mainstream. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. For more than a half century, mammograms have been one of the most valuable tools medical professionals have to screen, diagnose, evaluate, and follow people who have breast cancer.
Although breast self-exam tests are an important tool in early detection of breast cancer concerns, they are only one tool in someone’s tool bag. While self exams are extremely helpful, they are not thorough enough. Mammograms are highly efficient at detecting fatty cells, cysts, lumps, and tiny calcium clusters in the breast before they can be felt.
Early detection and regular screening tests save lives.
Since the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of scheduled mammograms has declined precipitously. Unfortunately, this has resulted in more serious outcomes. Findings, published in JAMA Network Open, indicate that of the patients who participated in a study at Moores Cancer Center at University of California San Diego Health, a higher amount of women presented with stage IV cancer than stage I post-pandemic. Conversely, prior to COVID-19, cases of stage I exceeded that of stage IV. Researchers believe that the elevated number of stage IV cases is a direct result of people missing their regular mammogram screenings during the pandemic.
In March 2021, a study led by Dr. László Tabár, professor emeritus of radiology at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Stephen W. Duffy, MSc, professor of cancer screening at Queen Mary University of London was published in the journal Radiology. Unequivocally, the study supports the JAMA finding — skipping one scheduled mammogram can greatly threaten one’s mortality. The longer cancer cells go undetected, the greater chance they will grow and spread.
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Data from these studies shows that when mammograms detect breast cancer early, the five-year relative survival rate is 99%. Further, when women are committed and consistent in screenings after diagnosis, they lower their 10-year risk of mortality by 50%. On the other hand, women who miss just one screening may lower such risk by an estimated 29%. Dr. Duffy is quite confident when he states, “Regular participation in all scheduled screens confers the greatest reduction in your risk of dying from breast cancer.”
Women who have family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a significantly higher risk of developing the disease. Having a sister, mother, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer can double the risk of developing breast cancer. For those who have two relatives diagnosed, the risk of diagnosis becomes five times higher than average.
While family history has a direct correlation to the risk of becoming diagnosed with breast cancer, a lack of family history with breast cancer does not mean you do not need to be diligent about getting screened. It is also important to note that people inherit an increased risk of developing breast cancer, not the disease itself. Not all people who have an inherited risk will ultimately develop breast cancer.
Breast cancer can develop at any age. Although it is most common in women, it also affects men. Since men are often not very familiar with the signs and symptoms, they should watch for lumps in the chest and underarm area along with changes to the nipple. It is important that men realize this as the estimate of becoming diagnosed is 1 in 830. Unfortunately, because men infrequently notice signs and symptoms, too often their diagnosis is a more advanced stage of cancer.
For a small rural mountain town, we are quite fortunate to have the level of care, compassion, and technology provided by the Shaw Cancer Center. For those who have need for breast cancer treatment, or any lymphatic medical attention, know that you don’t need to travel too far for help. However, above all, you must be proactive and aware of signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
As always, be diligent and communicate with your medical provider(s) about any concerns you may have regarding your health and well-being.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.