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Breast Self-Examinations, Mammograms Both Important

Between 2004 and 2008, 632 women in Baltimore County were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Recent trends in breast cancer detection have wavered. To perform breast self-exams, or not? To get mammograms, or not?

The worry about breast self-exams is that they may skew results into too many false-positive tests. Some who recommend fewer mammograms have suggested that over-screening leads to unnecessary invasive tests and undue anxiety.

However, the 2011 Breast Cancer Symposium of the American Society of Clinical Oncology overwhelmingly supports these preventive measures. The American Cancer Society agrees.

“While there has been ongoing debate about when and how breast cancer screening should occur, this study validates that women who undergo regular mammography screening present at earlier stages and often require less aggressive treatment than those who do not,” said Dr. Jamie Caughran, medical director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at the Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids, MI.

Dr. Michael Schultz, head of The Breast Center at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, said if a lump is detected at the first stage of breast cancer, the survival rate is 100 percent.

"If you have health care available and you can get a mammogram once a year, you should start at age 40," Schultz said. "The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcomes."

Dr. Rosanne Newell, director of the Solomon Katz Breast Center at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, Caughran, who helped lead the research team for a recent study on mammography said women should use both methods for detection. High-risk patients should seek advice from their doctors about the age for and frequency of tests.

The Michigan study, completed this year with data from nearly 6,000 women with breast cancer, counters guidelines by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which recommends generally that women get mammograms every two years beginning at age 50. The USPSTF notes that screenings should be determined on an individual basis.

Among other findings in the Michigan study:

  • Breast cancer in women younger than 50 was more likely to be detected first by feel than by mammography. Of the women whose tumors were found by feel, 40 percent were younger than 50.
  • Overall, 65 percent of the breast cancer cases were detected by mammography, while 30 percent were detected by feel and the other 5 percent by other methods.
  • For women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, 49 percent of the cases were detected by mammogram. Of those, 18 percent were Stage 2, and 4 percent were Stage 3.
  • For women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, 46 percent of the cases were detected by feel. Of those, 50 percent were Stage 2, and 17 percent were Stage 3.
  • For women over 50, 81 percent of breast cancers are detected through mammography.

In 2011, ASCO predicts 230,480 new cases of breast cancer for women, 2,140 for men, and 57,650 non-invasive cases. About one in eight women will develop breast cancer, according to ASCO.

A report from the National Cancer Institute states that 632 women in Baltimore County were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2004 and 2008. The state of Maryland had 3,921 diagnoses overall.

The institute further notes that, on average between 2003 and 2007, 132 women in Baltimore County died from breast cancer each year. In Maryland, the average during that time period is 822 women.

“Women of all ages presented with palpable tumors, highlighting the use of self-breast exam as an important public health measure,” Caughran said.

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