Each year when October rolls around, healthcare leaders and much of the public focus on breast cancer awareness by participating in walks to raise money for research or for families dealing with the disease.
You’ll also see pink lights, ribbons and shirts – and all of it is an appreciative acknowledgement of support for a cancer that continues to strike women at an alarming rate. The National Cancer Institute predicts that 287,850 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022. It remains the most common type of cancer, ahead of second-place prostate cancer.
Part of the messaging during breast cancer awareness month also revolves around the importance of preventive care and how the key to survival is knowing your breast cancer risk and catching it early. This can’t be amplified enough. It’s a key piece of the message and it might save the life of someone you love.
Mammograms are often successful at detecting breast cancer early, and before a lump can be felt in a clinical or self-examination, which means they’re usually caught at a stage where they’re more curable and/or haven’t spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
Fortunately, most women are aware of the importance of going through an annual mammogram, but age gaps remain.
For instance, the CDC tracked the age of women who had a mammogram between 1987 and 2019. It found that only about 60% of women from 40-to-49 years of age had a mammogram within a two-year period in 2019. That number jumped to 77% of women over 50, which means women in their 40s are at greater risk of not catching breast cancer as quickly.
I strongly recommend women in their 40s go through the routine, but possibly life-saving examination. The National Cancer Institute predicts that women 54 or younger will make up nearly 30% of new breast cancer diagnosis in 2022. Women in that age group also will represent 15% of about 43,000 breast cancer deaths are expected this year.
Northwell recommends women 40 and over get annual mammograms, and for women who are genetically predisposed to getting breast cancer, that age is even younger. Our radiologists are witnesses to how younger women have survived breast cancer because of a routine mammogram.
Every woman should talk to her doctor about family history of cancers, genetic testing, breast density, diet and general health, and don’t push off the annual mammogram.