October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a fitting time to address the ongoing public debate about when women should begin having yearly mammograms.
There’s been some confusion, especially in the last year, after the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for breast cancer screening. According to the organization, women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. However, the consensus among doctors seems to be women should start at age 40.
In 2015, Local 10 introduced Mammogram Monday, a weekly news feature that profiles stories on breast cancer awareness and treatments every Monday in October. This year, as part of the series, we asked doctors at Memorial Healthcare System to clear the confusion and why, in some cases, women may benefit from additional exams.
According Dr. Erica Bloomquist, a surgical oncologist at Memorial Healthcare System, risk factors, such as ethnicity and family history, play a huge role in the age breast cancer screening should begin.
“We say that if your relative is diagnosed at a certain age, you should begin screening ten years earlier than that,” said Bloomquist.
Another risk factor is dense breast.
“We hear about it in the media there is some elevation in your risk for developing breast cancer if you have dense breast," added Bloomquist.
Dense or fibrous breasts are composed of high concentrations of glandular tissue, which can make detecting a tumor more difficult during mammography. For women with dense breasts, additional imaging, such as an ultrasound, or in some cases MRI, is strongly recommended. The information obtained is part of a growing trend aimed at tailoring breast cancer screenings.
Bloomquist’s patient, Joann Segarra, underwent additional screening. An ultrasound found that a very small area in her breast that a mammogram showed to be abnormal was in fact breast cancer.
"You know that word when you hear it associated it with you, it just takes your breath away," said Segarra.
Segarra underwent radiation treatments, and until recently, breast cancer screenings every six months. Thankfully, the mother and grandmother has now been given a clean bill of health and a new reason to advocate for early detection.
"It's ten minutes out of your life that can save your life,” said Segarra. "I have a second chance."