Breast cancer awareness month may be over, but there is still a lot of talk about the disease in the media as a result of the latest breast cancer news. ABC News reporter Amy Robach received a diagnosis after an on-air mammogram. Clearly for Robach the question of whether mammograms save lives is relevant, but what about for other women? Guidelines about mammograms have been questioned lately and much discussion has centered on genetic testing for the breast cancer gene. What do women need to be doing when it comes to breast cancer detection?
Robach, who is 40, is just at the age when doctors have traditionally told women to start getting an annual mammogram. She was encouraged by her co-worker, Robin Roberts (also a cancer survivor) to do the on-air testing, according to Lisa Respers France’s November 11, 2013, article “ABC’s Amy Robach discovers cancer after on-air mammogram” on CNN.
In an article on the ABC News website, Robach writes that “I was also told this: for every person who has cancer, at least 15 lives are saved because people around them become vigilant.” Robach will have a bilateral as a result of her diagnosis.
In the news
But Robach is not the only person in the public eye to bring awareness to breast cancer in the past year. Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie went public in May through an Op-Ed in The New York Times about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after learning she had an increased genetic chance of developing breast cancer. Jolie’s mother died of breast and ovarian cancer, her grandmother died of ovarian cancer and her maternal aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Jolie’s decision led many women to ask their doctors about genetic testing. In “What If You Have the Breast-Cancer Gene like Jolie?” written by Susan Dennehy and Kim Serfas on October 11, 2013, for the Winnipeg Free Press, the authors cite the following facts about the disease:
- 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
- Only 5 to 7 percent of breast cancers are hereditary
- More than 50 percent of breast cancer occurs in women 50 to 69 years old
- When breast cancer develops due to inherited factors, it is usually through mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
- If you do have a BRCA gene mutation your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 50 to 87 percent
- If you have the BRCA gene mutation, a double preventative mastectomy can reduce your cancer risk by 90 percent
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed their recommendation for when women should start receiving regular mammograms from 40 to 50, if they had an average risk. They also advised that women could then have follow-up mammograms every two years rather than every year. This decision has resulted in an ongoing debate about the importance of the testing and whether mammograms save lives.
T.J. Sharpe’s November 5, 2013, post on breastcancer.org, “Doctors Weigh In: Do Mammograms Really Save Lives?” addresses that question. It states that “The science behind mammograms can be questioned, but there are also very strong reasons to get one.” According to one of the doctors interviewed in the post, Brian Wojciechowski, M.D., not only do mammograms allow for earlier detection of breast cancer, but earlier detection can save some women from more extreme procedures such as mastectomies.
Breast cancer is just one area of women’s health, but it has generated a lot of interest in the news and among research circles in recent years. While the debate may be ongoing, the awareness it raises can only be beneficial to women.
What do you think? Should women still have an annual mammogram after the age of 40? What about genetic counseling for women to see if they have the breast cancer gene — should that be mandatory, too? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.