Upon recently hearing of yet another friend’s breast cancer diagnosis, a few of my girlfriends mentioned that they were due for a mammogram. Two of them had been putting it off for a while. As a matter of fact, they had been putting it off for a very long while. Not just because mammograms are uncomfortable (to say the least), and not just because they were afraid, but also because they were concerned about the risks associated with radiation from the test.
My friend Amanda was diagnosed at age 32, which tells you everything you should need to know about the importance of self-exams. She was not due to have her first mammogram for eight more years, at the very earliest. Another friend of mine found her lump just a few weeks after getting her annual mammogram. It was located up near the armpit in an area that is not covered by mammography, but can still contain breast cancer.
With both my own annual mammogram appointment coming up shortly, this has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Last year, as I was finishing Day 2 of the walk, I received a message from an old friend to thank me for participating, as she had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and had just completed her first round of chemotherapy.
While regular self-exams are incredibly important, mammography also saves thousands of lives each year. One recent study from a Harvard Medical School Professor of Surgery found that women under age 50 would benefit tremendously from greater screening compliance. Younger women, it seems, tend to have faster growing tumors. This particular study also confirms that regular mammography screening is still the best way to significantly reduce breast cancer deaths.
Let’s get women who fear that annual radiation to the breasts might actually do more harm than good for a moment. Research shows that women tend to overestimate the amount of radiation used during mammography.
However if you are still concerned, rather than skipping your annual test, look for a facility that offers digital mammography. The radiation dose associated with digital mammography is significantly lower (averaging 22% lower) than that of conventional film mammography, especially for women with larger and denser breasts.
The best news for diagnosing breast cancer may be on the horizon. Researchers have found a way to detect breast cancer via a urine sample. The initial test they developed had a 91% accuracy rate. Of course, it won’t become commonplace for quite some time, but it sure does look promising, particularly if someday it could reduce or eliminate exposure to radiation from mammograms.
Researchers at the University of Texas have developed software that could potentially speed up breast cancer diagnosis with 90% accuracy without the need for time-consuming tissue preparation or a pathologist. There is also an immense amount of research being done to determine gene variants and other genetic markers, so that in the future a simple blood test could help to predict the onset of breast cancer.
Yet for right now, the moral of this story is still to:
– Get your annual mammogram. (Mine is on the calendar for two weeks from now, and my fingers are crossed.) The results, no matter what they reveal, are worth the discomfort. If you are concerned about radiation, have your test done at a facility that does digital imaging.
– Do regular self-exams starting at a young age and continuing consistently throughout the remainder of your life, even if you are getting regular mammograms.
– Treat your body well. Focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are 12 ways I am lowering my breast cancer risk, and you can do them too.
The bottom line when it comes to your health is to be proactive. Do it for you. Do for your loved ones. Do it for a world without breast cancer.
Disclosure: I am proud to be a paid ambassador for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. Please note that the research cited in this post is not in affiliation with Susan G. Komen.
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