Revisiting the Facts During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and during this month, it’s important to discuss and revisit the facts about breast cancer.

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
  • One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women.
  • Early detection saves lives.

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the breast. The damaged cells can invade surrounding tissue, but continuous research shows that with early detection and treatment, most people continue a normal life.

However, in 2009, the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPTF) published new breast cancer screening guidelines recommending against routine mammography screening for women before age 50 years and suggesting that screening end at age 74 years, despite opposition from organizations including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology.

I, too, have serious concerns about these guidelines, which endorse screening every two years starting at 50, rather than annually at age 40. I firmly believed this will lead to cancer being detected at later stages in many women and could lead to approximately 30 percent more breast cancer deaths.  I am certainly heartened by the news that many patients are choosing to ignore the 2009 guidelines and continuing to follow the recommendations of specialty groups, including the ACS and ACR.

Mammography is certainly not perfect, but it is the only imaging technique proven in large randomized controlled trials to reduce breast cancer mortality. The reality is that early detection is a first-line defense against breast cancer and even the most aggressive cancers are highly curable when caught at an early stage.

Screening mammography saves lives, which is why we continue to recommend that women be screened annually at age 40— to maximize early detection and save the most lives.