Why are mammograms so important in the war against Breast Cancer

mammograms so important

Breast Cancer became the most common type of cancer in the world in 2021. According to the World Health Organization it accounts for 12% of all new cancer cases globally. In the United States about 1 in every 8 women, roughly 13%, will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. In 2021 the estimated number of new cases of Invasive breast cancer in the US was 281,500 and 49,290 for non- invasive breast cancer, with 85% of these women having no family history of the disease.  For the majority of women who get breast cancer it has more to do with the process of aging and other issues that have occurred in their lifetime.   Sadly, many women will die from breast cancer and it has the highest death rate in the US of any cancer, barring lung cancer. It is hardly surprising that most of us know someone who has, at some point, had breast cancer. That’s why mammograms so important-

Many people join the event in commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month which takes place each year and we often see the signs of pink ribbons on clothing marking that awareness.  These events will hopefully, in the same vein as a Croco casino does keep you on your toes and raise your awareness levels.

Breast cancer can be deadly and can impact the lives of so many people.  But there are ways to keep yourself safe from this horrible disease.

Mammography is considered by healthcare professionals to be a good way to keep you safe.  Making sure that you have a regular mammogram is the best way to detect signs of the disease.

So, what is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is basically a large ex ray machine which x-rays images of the breast.  These images are then looked at by professional radiologists who are able to detect signs of anything that looks suspicious. We have come a long way since mammograms were stored on film.  Today mammography is digital and therefore can be stored on computers making for easy access to all those health professionals who need to be updated.   Digital mammography also has the benefits of being able to highlight certain parts of the image, making it darker or lighter, to be seen more clearly.

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Now we also have Breast/Digital Tomosynthesis or 3D Mammography which is considered to be even better then 2D mammography in detecting these breast cancers. However, it is still relatively new and there is no conclusive evidence of the benefits of 3D.

Benefits of Mammography

The huge benefit of Mammography is that it is incredibly good at detecting early signs of breast cancer, even before there are any symptoms.  Caught at this early stage means that chances of survival from the disease are at its highest.

If at a regular screening something is found that looks suspicious it will be followed up with a second screening called a diagnostic mammogram.  If on this second screening the abnormality is suspected to be breast cancer, a biopsy will be carried out. This will confirm or rule out breast cancer.

When should a woman start having mammograms?

According to the American Cancer Association, women who have some risk of breast cancer should begin to get mammograms yearly from around 40 – 44 years and recommends all healthy women between the ages of 45 – 54 should have yearly mammograms.

Women over the age of 55 should have mammograms every two years.   The American Cancer Association recommends that women should continue to have mammograms every two years for the remainder of their lives, subject to them being healthy. However, the US Preventive Services Task Force say after the age of 75 there is little evidence for or against continuing.    Obviously, some women are at a higher risk for breast cancer for a number of reasons, genetic or some other factor, and therefore the recommendations would be different.

Breast cancer screening for men is not really recommended as breast cancer in men is a rare occurrence.

Women between the ages of 50-69 gain the most benefits from regular mammograms and they can significantly lower mortality rates for breast cancer.  Breast cancer in women below the age of 50 is not as common.  According to the US Preventative Task Force, using regular mammograms on women between the ages of 39 – 49 it estimated that out of 10,000 women tested – 0-9 deaths from the disease are prevented. In the 50 -59 age group 2-17 deaths are prevented and in the 60 – 69 11 – 32 deaths are prevented.

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However, mammography is not perfect and while it does save a lot of lives there are still women who do have regular tests where breast cancer is diagnosed but they still succumb to the disease.

On the other hand, mammography does produce false positive results and over diagnosis.  For instance, 1212 women out of 10,000 women between the ages of 40-49 will get a false positive diagnosis.   The rate of false positives does decrease with age.  We see 932 for women between the ages of 50 – 59, 808 for women between the ages of 60 – 69 and for women between the ages of 70 – 74 that number is 696.

Sometimes the mammography will detect very small invasive cancers which may not result in problems if left alone and can actually shrink or disappear without any treatment.  However, it is impossible to know if a cancer will be in this category or prove to be fatal to the patient if left to run its course.

It can be that following a mammography, a biopsy is performed which then rules out breast cancer.   This is obviously a very positive result for the woman in question but getting here means many women undergo extra costly medical interventions, not to mention the enormous anxiety produced by the false positive diagnosis.

However, in spite of the false positives that do occur with mammograms, it is by far the best tool we have today for detecting breast cancer. The benefits of mammography far outstrip any of the negative aspects and it is recommended by most healthcare professionals.    Any woman over the age of 40 should approach her personal health care provider and begin having regular mammograms.


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