- I had breast cancer twice, at 35 and 39. Both times, I found it myself.
- Both times I had it, I was younger than the age people normally start getting mammograms.
- The updated guidelines recommend that people get mammograms at age 40, and I think that’s a good step.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 35 years old. My genetic tests came back negative, I did not have any major risk factors, and I had no family history of breast cancer. I was among the patients considered “medium risk.” I often tell people that I didn’t have to have breast cancer, but breast cancer didn’t care; I was among the one in eight women that will be diagnosed in her lifetime.
At the time of my first diagnosis, I was considered “too young” for routine mammograms. I chose to have a mastectomy, but breast cancer wasn’t done with me. I was diagnosed for the second time when I was 39 years old. Both times, I discovered my breast cancer through breast self-exams to look and feel.
This week, the US Preventive Services Task Force made a bold new recommendation in the works. The updated recommendations say that everyone assigned the female sex at birth should “get screened for breast cancer every two years.” from the age of 40 to reduce the risk of dying from the disease. Your previous recommendation was for those ages 50 to 74 to have a mammogram every two years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “9% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women under the age of 45.” Younger patients are likely “at a later stage” where the cancer is “more aggressive and difficult to treat,” she adds.
Starting mammograms at 40 will save lives
Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky, chief of breast medical oncology at Valley Health System in Paramus, New Jersey, and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai acknowledged that the recommendation “is an extremely important step.” But she pointed out that the guide for the evaluation after 40 was for every other year.
Teplinsky said annual screenings were even better, as recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Society of Breast Surgeons. This is because the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the results. And some breast cancers, like HER2-positive cancer, which was the one I had, tend to grow more aggressively, so early detection is even more crucial. Time he was not on my side.
She also said the new recommendations were for “medium risk” women and that those most at risk You may need to start screening at younger ages. This may require “add-on modalities” such as breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs. These can help doctors take a closer look at the breast tissue.
Dr. Anjali Malik, a board-certified and fellowship-trained breast imaging radiologist in Washington, DC, told Insider: “We’ve known for a long time that annual mammograms starting at age 40 reduce breast cancer mortality in 40%”.
He added that the Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendation “will save the lives of many.”
I appreciate any updated guidance, but I think more could be done
As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I welcome any new, life-saving recommendations. Although the american cancer society apparently discourages breast self-exams, and clinicians for average-risk women who routinely get mammograms, I urge everyone with breasts to do monthly breast self-exams and report concerns to their doctors. Even now that I’m flat, I do a monthly chest self-exam.
Siteman Cancer Center says to look for lumps or thickening in the breasts; any change in the size, shape, or heaviness of a breast; nipple discharge or changes in appearance; tenderness, soreness, or pain in one area of the breast; redness or dimpled skin; heat; itching; nipple inversion; enlarged lymph nodes; and more.
For 50% of women with dense breast tissuethat makes cancer harder to detect on mammograms, should they also get an annual ultrasound?
The working group says “Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women” and “all too often develop aggressive cancers at young ages.” What guidelines should be in place for black women? How can we better educate and examine women with breast implants, since says the Food Drug Administration “between 22% and 83%” of the ‘visualizable breast tissue’ can be hidden by breast implants”?
There are still many unanswered questions, and more could be done to provide explicit guidance; this seems clear to me. But this is a good first step, at least. We need to get out with the old and in with the new if we’re going to help more people survive breast cancer.