Today, in the USA, is National Mammography Day. While it is primarily a US-based observance, I thought it apt to dedicate this day’s post to the subject, seeing that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month or Breast Cancer Action month in many parts of the world.
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women, with current estimates in the US being that about 12 percent of American women will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives. To address this, steps for early detection is recommended, with one of the most important being an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam for women aged 40 and above.
Mammograms are very low dose breast tissue x-rays, used to pick up breast changes, and breast cancers in particular. Mammograms are critical because they can detect breast changes (lumps/thickenings) which are so small they cannot be felt. As a result, they increase chances of survival through early detection of possible cancer.
Additional tools and techniques that can be used as complimentary to mammography include ultrasound and MRI scanning.
Being a male, I can obviously not comment on the discomfort involved in receiving a mammogram, but my wife assures me that its not nearly as painful or uncomfortable as people make it out to be. The statistics agree – in general less than 5% of women experience a mammogram as painful. However, as with most things in life, bad experiences tend to receive most ‘air time’, hence creating the impression that many more women have bad experiences with mammography than is actually the case.
Despite any discomfort, there is no argument that it is a procedure worth doing – mammograms have a success rate of between 80 and 90%, and this rate gets higher in older women with less dense breast tissue. Thus detection accuracy increase with age, which is great, as the chance of getting breast cancer shows a similar age-related increase.
In closing, a word of advice from the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation:
“The best way to ensure early detection of breast cancer is to supplement screening mammograms with general breast awareness – know your breasts/know the changes to look and feel for – and see your family doctor without delay, if you notice any changes that are not normal for you.”