A quick mammogram could save your life. So how do you know if you should get one?

For more than three decades, women over the age of 40 were encouraged to get an annual breast screening with mammograms and clinical breast exams. The success of this strategy is indisputable. Since 1990 when screening became the norm, mortality in the United States from breast cancer has plunged by 34 percent, due to earlier detection and better treatment. (American Cancer Society, 2013)

In 1975, only 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survived their disease, but today the survival rate is better than 90 percent.

That statistic is true, even though breast cancer rates actually rose through the 1990s. The rate leveled off after 2000, yet the current decade has seen the fewest number of deaths from breast cancer ever recorded in this country.

While the number of breast cancer cases in the United States has risen, the risk of dying has steadily decreased.

What is the reason fewer women are dying of breast cancer? Quite simply – early detection. The National Cancer Institute advocates this approach by advising women to get a high-quality screening mammogram and have a clinical breast exam on a regular basis. These are the most effective ways to detect breast cancer early.”

Unfortunately, there has been confusion about when and how often to begin getting a mammogram. In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued new guidelines no longer recommending screening for women under age 50 or over age 74, and advised decreasing the frequency of screening for all other women from yearly to every other year mammograms.

It’s important for you to know that the trend shows that breast cancer diagnoses in a greater number of younger women every year; one-third of new breast cancers in the U.S. occur in women under the age of 55.

It is these younger women who typically have more advanced or aggressive tumors and women who don’t get regular screening are more likely to die younger. A recent report from Harvard medical school made this point very clear – 71 percent of all breast cancer deaths occurred in unscreened women and half of these women were under age 50 at the time of their death

If a woman develops breast cancer, her best opportunity for surviving the disease is to detect the cancer early. If you’re over age 40 and haven’t had a mammogram for more than a year, it’s time to make the appointment. That quick test may save your life.

Dr. John R. Bumberry, MD, MHA, is a breast surgeon at Mercy in Springfield, Mo.


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