Unless you live under a rock you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thanks to the efforts of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) campaign pink is the new color for fall. Everywhere you look buildings are sporting neon pink ribbons, billboards are plastered with motivating messages and seas of pink are racing around major cities nationwide. But with all this awareness there is also a flood of contradicting information for women to sort through.
To Mammogram or Not:
Trust me, no one wants to subject themselves to a mammogram but we do it because we know that early detection is so very important in fighting this disease. Breast cancer treatment is usually less aggressive and better tolerated when the disease is detected early. But, now we are getting mixed messages that maybe we don’t need to be rushing to the imaging suites to get our annual mammograms at the age of 40, but rather we should delay this until 50.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF) recent recommendations on mammograms have created quite a bit of confusion. The USPSTF recommends biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 – 74 and recommends against teaching Breast Self-Examination (BSE). So what’s a girl to do?
Three leading groups in breast cancer research, treatment and awareness have responded to the USPSTF mammography recommendations:
- American Cancer Society: Still recommends that all women over the age of 40 receive a mammogram annually.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists : Recommends that physician fellows continue to follow current guidelines and advise mammography screening for patients aged 40 and older.
- Susan G. Komen: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure wants to eliminate any impediments to regular mammography screening for women age 40 and older. While there is no question that mammograms save lives for women over 50 and women 40–49, there is enough uncertainty about the age at which mammography should begin and the frequency of screening that we would not want to see a change in policy for screening mammography at this time.”
Is a Breast Self Examination (BSE) still recommended?
A monthly BSE has been recommended since 1993; however more than 30 nonrandomized trails have produced conflicting results about the efficacy, sensitivity and specificity of the practice. The BSE must be done with some level of skill and the current consensus is that BSE should be used in combination with other breast cancer screening modalities such as a Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) and mammography. A CBE is similar to a BSE but a trained healthcare provider such as your doctor or nurse conducts it.
If you chose to do a monthly BSE you should have your doctor or nurse check your method to make sure you are doing it right. The biggest benefit of doing a regular BSE is that you know how your breasts normally look and feel so you can more easily notice any changes. The most important thing is to contact your physician ASAP if you notice any changes in your breasts.
The American Cancer Society and other women’s health organizations still see merit in the monthly BSE and continue to recommend it’s practice. Save the Ta-Ta’s is an organization committed to raising awareness and providing fun products such as Boob Lube to promote and encourage breast self-examinations. 25% of proceeds go to breast cancer awareness and research.
Where to Get Free or Low Cost Mammograms and Breast Cancer Screening:
- Contact The American Cancer Society or call 1-800-227-2345 to find the nearest free or low cost mammogram.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also gives free and low cost mammograms. Click here for a list of facilities offered through the CDC National Breast and Cervical Center Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP).
- Go to the Susan G Komen Foundation website to find your local chapter or call 1-877-465-6636