Most of my friends don’t relish having a mammogram, but they dread a diagnosis of breast cancer even more. This rite of middle age continues to get a lot of attention in the press. For instance, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen wrote in their column, “The You Docs,” in the Houston Chronicle, “After menopause, nearly one in six breast-cancer cases is linked to excess body fat; so is diabetes. Women with diabetes are at far higher risk of heart disease and (this is new) at higher risk for breast cancer."
Reporters were also talking about the recent hubbub when the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women should have a mammogram every two years when they have reached the age of 50. This recommendation is contrary to the previous standard of having an annual screening starting at the age of 40. In fact, several major organizations still recommend differing screening schedules. For instance, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) recommends that women have a baseline mammogram and annual clinical breast exams by the age of 40. The NBCF then recommends that women age 40-49 should have a mammogram every one to two years depending on previous findings and then every year after the age of 50. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society, the Susan B. Komen Foundation and the National Cancer Institute recommend annual screenings for women over the age of 40. And the American College of Physicians takes a different stance, recommending that each woman age 40-49 should make the decision about how often to have a mammogram based it on her own breast cancer risk profile and her own preferences.
Now the media is trumpeting on some new research that suggests that there’s a benefit to the biennial schedule. Voice of America reports on a new study that found that having mammograms every two years (instead of annually) resulted in approximately 33% fewer false-positive results. Researchers did note that women who follow this schedule may increase their risk for late-stage breast cancer diagnosis; however, the increase in these diagnoses wasn’t statistically significant and the stage of breast cancer was only analyzed in the women who developed cancer.
While the timing is up in the air, experts do agree that screenings do make a difference. “Regular breast-cancer screenings (starting at age 40, or sooner if you have a family history) slash your risk for fatal breast cancer by 30 percent,” Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz wrote. “Survival rates with great quality of life are increasing yearly, thanks to earlier detection and better treatments.”
So how can you decrease your risk? Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz suggest taking two baby aspirins and 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily, as well as stopping smoking. They also recommended “watching your weight, eating your broccoli and cauliflower (and other cruciferous vegetables), being active every day, having at most one drink daily and, if you’re a new mom, breastfeeding, prevents more than a third of breast cancers.”
Yet, researchers and cancer organizations note that there is a lot still to be learned about preventing breast cancer. The Komen website reports, “For breast cancer, most risk factors that we have some control over have only a modest effect on risk. This means that there is no one magic bullet for preventing breast cancer, but it also means there's no one factor that will cause it. Even a woman with a BRCA gene mutation doesn't have a 100 percent chance of getting breast cancer. In fact, most people diagnosed with breast cancer are at average risk and we don’t know which factors came together to cause the cancer. This doesn't mean that prevention is an illusion. The disease process is just so complex that it's hard to pin down how a certain set of risk factors will affect a person.”
So what does this all mean for you? I’d suggest that you continue to embrace a healthy lifestyle as the best way to prevent cancer and other diseases. Also, work with your own doctor to develop an appropriate mammogram schedule.
Published On: October 24, 2011