25 Years of Progress in the Detection and Treatment of Breast Cancer
By Brett T. Parkinson, MD
Oct 27, 2016
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
But much of the progress we’ve made could be lost, if we abandon our vigilance in screening. Despite scientific advances, one sobering fact remains: ALL women are at risk of developing breast cancer. One in eight women will eventually be diagnosed with this potentially deadly disease.
And just because you don't have a family history of breast cancer, it doesn't mean you’re not at risk. Seventy-five percent of women with newly-diagnosed breast cancers have no family history or any other significant risk factors, like the breast cancer gene. Although the incidence of breast cancer increases as you get older, age isn't necessarily protective; 20 percent of all breast cancers occur in women under 50.
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There is only one test that has been shown in multiple clinical studies to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer: screening mammography. To save the most lives, Intermountain Healthcare and I stand with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiologists, and the American College of Surgeons in recommending that women begin annual screening mammography at the age of 40.
Although this is contrary to the some recently-published, controversial guidelines, our recommendations are supported by the results of multiple clinical trials and other scientific studies. Thousands of lives would be lost if women didn’t start annual mammography screenings at age 40.
In addition to traditional film screen and 2D mammography, here are six detection and treatment advancements that have improved patient care in the past 25 years. These advancements can save lives, provided women get screened in time to take advantage of them:
Any woman — regardless of her age — with a breast lump or other concerning symptoms should consult her primary care provider for a clinical breast exam. This may be followed by a mammogram, ultrasound, or both. Other worrisome symptoms include skin changes/itching involving the nipple-areolar complex, clear or bloody nipple discharge, thickening, or a change on self-examination. Don't ignore these signs.
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Far too many women still die from breast cancer. By detecting it at its earliest, most-treatable stage, the death rate will continue to plummet. We do not yet have the knowledge to prevent cancer, but we certainly have the tools to minimize its impact. And the best tool we have is screening mammography. If you’re 40 or older, and haven't had a mammogram in over a year, schedule one today. It may save your life.
To continue the downward trend in breast cancer deaths, we must ensure that screening continue to be covered by insurance. A congressional mandate that requires insurance carriers to provide annual screening benefits, starting at age 40, will expire on December 31, 2017, unless our representatives act to extend it. Be proactive: Let your government leaders know you support insurance coverage for annual screening beginning at age 40. When the time comes, and the issue is on the congressional docket, let your voice be heard!