Controversies in Breast Cancer Screening

I recently spoke at the 2012 Cowan Cancer Symposium at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah on the importance of breast cancer screening and early detection. Over 150 local health care providers met to expand their knowledge on a wide range of topics related to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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Utah has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the nation and one of the lowest screening rates. My advice to local doctors: Mammography remains the most effective and affordable tool for detecting breast cancer and, for women with average risk of developing the diseaseannual screening should begin at age 40.

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With debates in the last two years about the effectiveness of breast cancer screening after the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force took the controversial stand against regular screening prior to the age of 50 for women with no family history of the disease, the facts speak for themselves. Physicians should be aware that 70 to 80 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are in women with no family history or identifiable risk of the disease.

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A typical mammography screening is equivalent to two months exposure to normal background radiation. This amount is estimated to increase the lifetime risk of breast cancer from 1.3 to 1.7 cases in 100,000 women aged 40—a very small risk compared to the potential benefit screening detecting breast cancer at an early stage.  To paraphrase Dr. Dan Kopans, screening anxiety cannot compare to death from breast cancer.

To learn more about the 2012 Cowan Cancer Symposium, please see here.

For more information on Women’s Imaging at UCSF, please see here.