Breast cancer awareness

This year marks the 25th year of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. An estimated 40,000 women in the U.S. die of this disease annually, but early identification can lead to better outcomes. Screening is important, as well as knowledge of your risks and which risks you can modify.

One of the difficult tasks in preventive medicine is making population recommendations while recognizing varying risks for the individual. This can create confusion for the patient.

There are recommendations of annual or biennial mammograms beginning at age 40. But recently the U.S. Preventive Medicine Task Force unveiled a set of recommendations that appeared to push the age for a first mammogram to age 50. Yet, if you look closer, these same recommendations emphasize that a woman might need to receive a mammogram at a younger age, depending on her medical history. The interval between mammograms is also a subject of debate. Again, it is important to have that conversation with your physician, since the timing is influenced by your medical history.

A question the Medical Office receives often is if we do BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 testing. These tests can tell if there is a mutation in a gene coding for tumor suppressor proteins preventing cancer of the breast or ovaries. Those with a deficiency in the gene are at increased risk for these cancers. We do not perform the tests in the Medical Office, since these tests and their interpretation are best performed with the aid of a genetic counselor. The PBS TV production “In the Family” provides an informative treatment of this topic.

Hopefully, this article has raised your awareness of breast cancer. Now is the time to take action, for yourself or a loved one. Have the conversation, get the screening and improve or lengthen your life.

—Dr. Brian Svazas