By: Dr. Jessica Jones, oncologist with Memorial Hermann Cancer Center
Before you read this blog, I need you to know that this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill “go get your mammogram” post. No ma’am. I will talk about more than just mammograms, which are critically important. I will also delve into breast MRI and tell you who is at high risk for developing breast cancer. Let’s get started.
Texas is ranked 29th when it comes to breast cancer mortality, which means more women are likely to die from breast cancer in Texas than, say, New York. Why is this? Well, we still have yet to figure that out but there is definitely a combination of genetics, personal health qualities, and environmental factors at play.
I think instead of being discouraged, we should be hopeful. After all, if there is a list of qualities that put a woman at higher risk for breast cancer, we can potentially intervene and possibly reduce that risk. A woman is at higher risk of breast cancer if she:
1. Is a postmenopausal woman who is at her ideal weight
2. Has a history of breast biopsies
3. Has been told she has dense breasts
4. Has a family history of breast cancer
5. Had early puberty and/or late menopause
Other factors that can increase risk of breast cancer include use of hormonal therapies and the amount of alcohol a woman drinks. UT Physicians and Memorial Hermann offer risk reducing interventions to help women who are at increased risk of breast cancer, including referrals to nutrition or weight loss services. There are calculators that take into account age, height, weight, ethnicity, breast density, and family history to give real life estimates. When all of these risk factors are taken into account, a woman who is identified as high risk can qualify for extra screening services.
Mammograms are the main form of breast cancer screening. Mammograms are important because they can detect cancer before a woman can feel a lump. If a woman waits until she feels a lump, there is a higher chance it has travelled to her lymph nodes. Stages are assigned to breast cancer based on the size of the tumor as well as if the lymph nodes are involved. Lymph nodes are under a woman’s arm pit, and if involved, can also lead to a larger surgery. When a mammogram catches a cancer in the earliest stage, a woman has a 98% chance of cure. Even better, if a mammogram catches cancer in the earliest stage, a woman may avoid chemotherapy altogether.
Women who are at increased risk of breast cancer may qualify to undergo a breast MRI. Breast MRIs have been shown to be superior to breast mammography alone if a woman has more risk factors. It is especially helpful for women with dense breasts who are at high risk. A breast MRI is more likely to find a breast cancer in the earliest stage when used in combination with a breast mammogram.
It is time to change the rhetoric for women in Texas regarding breast cancer screening. If you think you are at increased risk for breast cancer and want to see if you qualify for additional services, reach out to your doctor or the Breast Cancer Prevention Clinic with UT Physicians and Memorial Hermann at 713-704-3961.