As a doctor and specialist in Women’s Health and Hormonal Health in particular, I have been concerned for years about misconceptions and misinformation about breast cancer, its causes and methods of early detection. Each new study highlighted in the media comes with an increased risk for women and their doctors of developing the wrong ideas about how breast cancer begins and the best methods of detection and treatment.
Risk factors for developing breast cancer include gender – as a woman, you are far more likely to develop breast cancer than a man. Aging is another factor – as you get older and your hormone levels fall, your risk increases. Other risk factors to consider are genetic mutations, family history of breast cancer in a close relative, race and ethnicity. Lifestyle risk factors include smoking, excess alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese, lack of regular exercise, poor dietary habits, long-term use of oral contraceptives and chemical exposure from the environment.
How Often Should You Have Breast Cancer Screenings?
In February of 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force examined U. S. Breast Cancer screening strategies and concluded that biennial mammograms achieved most of the benefits of annual screens, and cause less harm to women. The conclusion is a controversial one, as evidenced at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium held in December of 2013. During the sometimes heated debate, many physicians expressed their opinion that ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast) should not automatically carry a diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer. Others advocate invasive treatments that designed to prevent the DCIS from becoming invasive breast cancer.
When the follow up results of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study were released, it appeared to indicate that it doesn’t matter if cancer was found on a mammogram or during clinical or self-exams – statistically, the death rate for each group was the same.
Early Detection is Key to Improving Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Early detection is key to improving breast cancer survival rates, which is why regular self-exams, clinical exams and mammograms remain important to early diagnosis. The American Cancer Society guidelines recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have clinical breast exams every three years, and suggest annual mammograms after the age of 40. Women should preferably have a baseline exam performed in their mid-30s for future reference.
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