It’s easy to confuse early detection with prevention. Over the years, many women have said to me, “How could this breast cancer happen to me? I’ve been getting my mammogram every year!” I think many women believe that mammography prevents breast cancer. It doesn’t. Rather, mammography is our best tool for early detection: finding breast cancer in its earliest stages, when the cancer is most treatable. Combined with your doctor’s breast examination and your own breast self-exam, mammography can save your life. I believe that it probably saved mine.
My April mammogram at age 51 showed a change when compared to my mammogram from the year before. This led to a flurry of tests — ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy — which confirmed a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. After multiple surgeries and continued hormonal therapy, I’m on my way to recovery.
Every woman deserves her best chance for early detection of breast cancer. It is the most common cancer affecting women in the prime of their lives. Early detection has been proven to increase the chances of surviving breast cancer by about 30% (depending on your age and your situation). Still, a recent study that looked at the mammography records of about 1.5 million women between 2006 and 2009 found some frightening results. Only about half of women age 50 and older are getting mammograms each year. And fewer than half of women (47%) between age 40 and 50 are getting mammograms consistently. All this comes after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended new mammogram guidelines in 2009 that called for major cutbacks: women between 40 and 50 would only get mammograms if they were at high risk and women 50 and older would get mammograms every other year. If adopted, these recommendations would lead to fewer women getting mammograms. I believe that not getting regular mammography is a huge missed opportunity to potentially save your own life or help you find cancer early when less aggressive therapies are necessary.
In today’s New York Times article, A Doctor’s Mammogram Mission Turns Personal, I shared my own story to encourage other women to get a mammogram. Too many precious lives are at stake.
I hope reading the article is helpful to you and your loved ones.