October marks one of several moments we stop to reflect on the health and mortality of not only our individual selves but of all the women in our lives. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the race towards a cure is still far from being won. Too many of us have sat dissecting and combing through our family’s medical histories, tensely awaited the biopsy results, contemplated treatment options, and said farewell to loved ones lost too soon. Though progress has occurred, when one we love is taken it hardly seems enough. But as painful and frightening as it is, we cannot get stuck and must bravely continue on, arming ourselves with new information in detection, treatment and prevention.Over the next few posts we’ll look over the horizon at the latest developments and determinations recent research provides. Our first focus will be the newer guidelines for and methods to breast cancer screening. The below outlines the American Cancer Society’s current guidelines for early detection in low to average risked women*. Women younger than age 40, with no personal or family history of the disease are considered at low to average risk, depending on their individual lifestyle habits.
• Clinical breast examination at least every 3 years
• Breast self-examination (optional)
Age 40 and over:
• Annual mammogram
• Annual clinical breast examination (preferably prior to mammogram)
• Breast self-examination (optional)
Recently, the need for women to begin annual mammograms at age 40 has come under question. Many doctors and researchers still consider age the greatest risk factor in healthy asymptomatic women and continue to encourage women to start mammogram screening at 40 years.
Those who challenge this approach cite the unnecessary exposure to chest x-rays-thought to increase breast cancer risk- that more often result in the discovery of benign lumps or fail to detect existing lumps all together. As a compromise between these two positions, some doctors recommend digital mammograms for low to average risked women between 40 and 50 years of age. This form of mammogram is thought to better detect cancer in the denser breast tissue of younger women.**
For women of higher risk,***
- 50 years of age and older
- Having a personal and or family history of the disease
- Having inherited the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 gene
- Having received chest radiation treatments as a child or younger adult
- Having begun menstruating before the age of 12
- Having had their first child after the age of 35
a chest MRI that uses magnetic fields to produce a highly defined and detailed image of the breast may be recommended along with the annual clinical breast exam and mammogram. For all risk groups, the clinical breast exams performed by our physicians have superseded self examinations. The reason being is that more cases of breast cancer have been discovered outside of the structured self examinations, like while bathing or changing clothes, than within. All agree that early detection is key, but more medical professionals are encouraging the development of awareness and familiarity with one’s own body beyond just its size, shape and feel but deeper in to more subtle changes in appearance and sensation. Most agree that yearly mammograms from the age of 50 and on are essential to maintaining breast health.
For those interested in a possible future alternative to the mammogram. Breast Thermography, or Digital Infrared Imaging, measures the metabolic activity/generated heat of the examined area based on the theory that this level is always higher in precancerous and cancerous areas than in non-cancerous parts. The resulting image, a thermogram, is used to assess a person’s risk and some believe it offers more accurate information earlier and can therefore offer those determined to be at greater risk more opportunity to make lifestyle changes, take preventive measures and begin treatment options. Currently it is not recommended as a replacement for clinical exams or mammograms, but it can be useful as a complementary assessment approach for those that believe themselves to be at higher risk for the disease. For more information on Breast Thermography, visit http://www.breastthermography.com.
Until next time,
Be Aware, Be Brave and always…
- Are Breast Exams Necessary While Breastfeeding? (everydayhealth.com)
- RAK hospital offers free mammograms and consultation (gulfnews.com)