As we near the end of October, I am issuing a challenge to the women of Idaho, who are notorious for not getting their mammograms: If you are over the age of 40, please talk to your healthcare provider about when you should start getting screened, and if you are over 50, just schedule it. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, so there is a good chance this disease will affect you or someone you love. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.
Why is breast cancer screening important?
Getting a mammogram at the appropriate time in your life is important because the earlier cancer is found, the earlier you can get treatment for it. If breast cancer is discovered before it spreads, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent on the national level. But for late-stage cases, the five-year survival rate drops to 24 percent. That’s why early detection is important.
Is it possible to reduce the risk of breast cancer, or are we stuck with genetics?
Even though you can’t control your genetic risk for the disease, you can do your part to stay healthy and help prevent it. Maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcoholic drinks, knowing your family history, and getting the recommended regular screenings all help. Risk factors for breast cancer include being female, getting older, and having a baby later in life, as well as a family history of breast cancer, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.
What can women do to detect breast cancer early?
Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer in the early stage. In fact, mammograms can detect breast cancer up to three years before tumors can be felt. Health officials recommend that women should talk to their doctors about when they should begin getting mammograms, but average-risk women who are 50-74 years old should have a mammogram every two years. All women should regularly check for changes in the size or shape of their breasts, feel for lumps, and discuss any changes with their doctors.
It sounds like women in Idaho are not getting proper screenings.
That is true. Idaho has one of the lowest mammography rates in the United States, even though the evidence is clear that getting a regular screening could save your life. So if you are part of the 35 percent of Idaho women who should have had a mammogram but haven’t, please talk to your doctor about scheduling an appointment.
Where can women get screened?
Your doctor can help you determine your options and recommend a clinic. Low income and uninsured women can find out about free screenings through the Women’s Health Check program at www.womenshealthcheck.dhw.idaho.gov.
(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs most Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from Oct. 23.)