By: Lt. Cheryl Castro & Lt. Jenique Keys, certified nurse midwives, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton
Pink bows, pink tutus, and pink ribbons are all signs that breast cancer awareness month is here. We wear the pink ribbons, we buy the pink soccer socks, but do we really know what we should be “aware” of this month?
After skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer for women in the US is breast cancer. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than 200,000 women are diagnosed annually in the US with breast cancer, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. Most breast cancers are found in women 50 years of age or older, but approximately 11 percent of all new cases are found in women younger than 45 years of age. These statistics highlight important questions that women should consider.
For example, how often should you conduct a self-breast exam or schedule a screening with your health care provider? At what age should you receive a mammogram?
As women’s health clinicians, we regularly encounter patients who do not know the answers to these questions. We still have a knowledge gap when it comes to breast health.
There are some important and serious messages behind all the pink paraphernalia. To start with, every woman should conduct a self-breast exam monthly, schedule a clinical breast exam yearly and starting at age 40, and consider receiving a mammogram annually. Leading health care organizations differ in age and frequency recommendations for clinical examination and mammography (see chart below).
Mammography Screening Recommendations
|Mammogram Frequency(years of age)||U.S. Preventive Task Force||American Cancer Society||American Medical Association||American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists||American College of Radiology|
|40-49||Optional/ individual decision based on context||Annual (starting at age 45)*||Annual||Annual||Annual|
|50-74||Every 2 years||Every other year after 55*||Annual||Annual||Annual|
|75 and older||Insufficient evidence to assess the benefits and harm||Annual||Annual||Annual||Annual|
* The revised American Cancer Society guidelines were recently issued in October 2015. Previous guidelines recommended an initial mammogram at age 40. This variation in recommendations can be confusing, which is why you should discuss risk factors and concerns with your health care provider in order to make an informed decision about when to begin annual mammograms.
Knowing and following these guidelines is only half the battle. The other half is performing the self-breast exam correctly. For additional information see http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam or schedule a consultation with your health care provider today.
In conclusion – wear the pink! Not only because it increases breast cancer awareness, but it also serves as a reminder to be vigilant about your own breast health.