Several good questions came in this month, but I will table them until next month.
Q. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What does it mean for you?
A. You probably will not get breast cancer in your lifetime, so don’t get scared. However, it is still very important for you to be proactive.
The best way to be proactive is to get your mammogram every year from age 40 until about age 80. Somewhere around the age of 75, check your overall health status. If you are still in good health, and have good 7 to 10 year prospects of good health, you should still get your mammogram. The death rate from breast cancer has dropped nearly 40 percent since the advent of screening mammography – and this early detection also comes with a better quality of life for most women.
Why do we pick 40 and not 50 to begin mammography? I addressed that in detail in my posting of November 2015. Nothing magical happens at 50. The magic happens at age 40, as depicted in the graph of the NIH/SEER data (public domain data).
Why do we say don’t skip years? Several studies, including one I mentioned in a previous article, validate the idea of not skipping years. Research published in a leading scientific journal found that skipping even one year gave that population of women a 2.3 fold increase risk in mortality versus the women who had not skipped years. In addition, there was a progressive risk in mortality as the number of skipped years increased.
There is a value judgment when it comes to any medical illness. How much money are we going to throw at breast cancer, compared to heart disease, strokes, adult onset diabetes and complications from osteoporosis? But that is a different argument. The scientific evidence for yearly breast cancer screening is solid, and a mammogram is still a pretty reasonable price for the benefit of a better quality and quantity of extended life.
Michael J. Ulissey, M.D., is a partner at the Breast Diagnostic Centers of Auburn and Federal Way. In addition to taking care of patients locally, he continues to participate in research as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.