Regular Mammograms Are Beneficial, But Don’t Forget about Your Breasts the Rest of the Year
Veronica L. Irvin, PhD, MPH; Oregon State University, College of Public Health and Human Sciences
Maritza Leon Gutierrez, MPH; Oregon State University, College of Public Health and Human Sciences
Danielle M. Bertoni, MD, MPH; Samaritan Health Services
It is important for women know that regular mammogram screenings can help find breast cancer earlier. Most women over the age of 40 in the U.S. get a regular mammogram, however, screening mammograms do not find about 1 in 5 breast cancers. Some women who complete regular mammograms can still find cancer in-between their regular mammograms. Most of these missed cancers are interval breast cancers and they appear after a woman had a mammogram that was normal, but before she returns for her next screening or routine mammogram.
Interval breast cancers might be cancers that were hard to find, or they might not have been present at the time of the exam. Interval breast cancers are typically more aggressive and lethal than screen-detected cancers. They are often larger in size, have more lymph node involvement, and are of a higher grade and later stage than cancers found during routine mammography screening.
Women who had an interval breast cancer noticed something was wrong through a breast self-exam or by accident when dressing. Women might only notice one symptom, but symptoms vary from women to women. Most interval breast cancers are found as a lump. Some women noticed a cyst, pain or burning sensation, nipple discharge or their breast just did not look normal. For some women, they noticed the interval breast cancer after one or two years of screening. For others, they may have had 20 years of regular screening before they experienced an interval breast cancer.
Interval breast cancers may be more common for women with dense breasts. Some women wait to reach out to their doctor because they just had a mammogram, and nothing was wrong. But waiting may allow the tumor to grow larger.
Here are some steps women can take throughout the year for their breast health:
- Keep up the good work with regular screenings. Talk to your doctor about when to start mammograms and how often you should come in for regular mammograms.
- Check your breasts regularly or at least monthly. Your body may tell you when something is wrong, but you must be paying attention.
- If you notice anything different with your breasts, don’t doubt, don’t wait, and don’t be afraid. Call your doctor. The sooner you see your doctor, the sooner you can start treatment.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so we want to remind women to continue with their regular mammogram. But don’t forget about your breasts the rest of the year!