Breast Cancer Screenings Are More Important Than Ever

by: Drew Munhausen

Even though COVID-19 is still here, and an important president election is on the horizon, we cannot forget that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s estimated that one in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer and more than 42,000 die of the disease every year. This is why it is important for women to receive a mammogram every year beginning at age 40, earlier if they are at higher risk. According to Memorial Hermann experts, many women have put off their yearly screening this year out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

 “All screening has decreased tremendously, upwards to 90% for some cancers,” said Dr. Jessica Jones, assistant professor of oncology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and breast oncologist at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center. “It’s incredibly concerning to know there are women out there who have breast cancer, and don’t know it since they missed their mammogram.”

According to Dr. Jones, the estimated numbers from April to June show:

  • 36,000 missed or delayed diagnoses of patients with breast cancer
  • 22,600 patients with prostate cancer
  • Over 18,00 patients with colon cancer
  • 2,500 cervical cancer patients
  • Almost 500 lung cancer patients

“When it comes to cancer, early diagnosis is key to curing the patient,” said Dr. Jones. “Multiple medical societies and the United States Preventative Task Force (USPTF) have issued a call to arms, urging patients to get back to their doctors for screening. If your primary care doctor hasn’t reached out, please reach out. Also, the USPTF has urged doctors to identify the patients who are highest risk, and prioritize these patients to get into screenings first.”

Some of the risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Genetic mutations– These include BRCA1/2, and if a woman has this she should start screening in her 20s. This woman has a very strong family history where someone tested positive.
  • Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, even if not BRCA – This is an independent risk feature since we still don’t know all the genes connected to breast cancer.
  • Very dense breast tissue – It is sometimes hard to catch tumors in women with dense breast tissue, and often women with dense breast get told they have abnormal mammograms.
  • Reproductive history – A woman who had menstrual cycle start before age 12 and do not start menopause until after age 55 are at higher risk. Having children later in life also contributes to a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
  • History of Breast Biopsies – Even if not cancerous, any history of a biopsy puts a woman at increased risk. Biopsies are never normal.
  • Obesity – Weight independently affects breast risk as well. If a woman is overweight and menopausal, she should consider going to get her mammogram now.

“It’s very important for a woman to know she is in the high risk category so she take the necessary steps to catch the disease early,” Jones said. “This is why it is so important to get screened every year.”

Memorial Hermann Cancer Center offers a highly trained, multidisciplinary team of specialists to help women who are at increased risk of breast cancer. Women who find they are high risk for breast cancer should know that there are steps they can take to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer up to 50%. Options include increased screening with breast MRI technology, as well as risk-reducing medications. Support for weight loss and nutrition is also available in this holistic clinic. This service is not well-known because it takes a comprehensive network of subspecialized physicians, which is why Memorial Hermann Cancer Center can deliver this care to Houston women. Moreover, there is a Nurse Navigator, who serves as a patient’s main point of contact throughout their care. The Nurse Navigator provides services that combine knowledge and skills, with the support and compassion each patient deserves.

“Do not let COVID take away the cure,” said Dr. Jones. “If we can safely grocery shop, it is safe to get a mammogram. Now, more than ever, we need to help women know if they are high risk. At Memorial Hermann, we are delivering high-level care while ensuring you are safe and comfortable. We want to do more than cure cancer – we want to prevent it before it even starts.”

You can talk with specialists in Memorial Hermann’s Breast Cancer Prevention Program to evaluate your personal risk to see if you qualify for additional tests. To contact Memorial Hermann’s Breast Cancer Prevention program, please call our Southeast Houston location at 713.486.6325 or our Texas Medical Center location at 713.704.3961.

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