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Mammograms- Do They Work?

Posted on October 4, 2013 by admin | Posted in Uncategorized

october-pinkOctober is breast cancer awareness month.  It’s a great time to get your screening mammogram done that you may have put off for the last few years.  Mammograms are currently the only proven screening test for the general population.  They are able to identify approximately 80% of breast cancers early on in the process.  About 1 in 10 mammograms will come back showing an abnormality, thus many women will have another follow-up study performed.  This is when there can be a lot of anxiety as a woman waits for more imaging to be performed and results to come back.  It may be helpful for some women to know that 9 out of 10 will have normal findings on the follow up studies.

There are many different organizations with recommendations on breast cancer screening.  Some of them include American College Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Cancer Society, U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.  I personally recommend following the guidelines set up by ACOG.  Their screening frequency is not as conservative as the USPSTF and not as liberal as the ACS.

One needs to consider the potential risks that some studies have investigated and that patients bring up as concerns.  Such as the radiation exposure from mammograms.  A study in 2010 found: If 100,000 women got annual mammograms from ages 40 to 55, and then every other year until age 74, there was 86 breast cancers and 11 deaths attributable to the mammography radiation.  Put another way, an author of the study said: “Your chances are one in 1,000 of developing a breast cancer from the radiation. Your chances of dying are 1 in 10,000.”  Due to the mammogram radiation, the model concluded that 136 woman-years — that’s defined as 136 women who died a year earlier than their life expectancy or 13 women who died 10 years earlier than their life expectancy — would be lost due to radiation-induced exposure. But 10,670 woman-years would be saved by earlier detection.

As far as reducing your risk of breast cancer, it’s first important to realize 70% of women develop breast cancer without any risk factors!  However we do know that the following decreases your risk: regular exercise, not being obese, limiting alcohol intake to 1 drink or less per day, and the newest research finding of limiting smoking.  Low fat diet consisting of a lot of fruits and vegetables is obviously beneficial to your overall health and may decrease your risk of breast cancer.

There are some women who are at higher risk than the general population.  Those are women with a strong family history and hereditary gene mutations such as the BRCA 1 and 2. For further reading on this topic please click BRCA 1 and 2.  If you have a significant family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer then it is important that you see your health care provider for counseling and possible testing.

Lastly, if you have any family or friends that have breast cancer then send them an encouraging note this month.

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