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The Complicated Topic Of Breast Cancer Risks And Screening

August 23, 2013

Brest cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women, only behind skin cancer. Screening for breast cancer has become a controversial topic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women age 50 to 74 should be screened for breast cancer every two years with a mammogram. Other experts maintain mammograms screening for breast cancer should beginning at age 40 even if the patient is not at increased high risk. To further complicate matters, nearly twenty percent of women who are provided accurate information on their breast cancer risk do not believe their risk is accurate. To reduce the possibility of a late or misdiagnosis, women should educate themselves on the topic of breast cancer in conjunction with their doctor.

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. Although more prevalent in women, breast cancer can also occur in men. There are certain risk factors associated with breast cancer. These risk factors include being female, increased age, family history of breast cancer, radiation exposure, obesity, and alcohol consumption.

The three main screens for breast cancer are: 1) a mammogram; 2) a clinical exam; and 3) a self-exam. A type of x-ray, mammograms have proven to be the most accurate way to screen for early breast cancer. A clinical breast cancer exam is performed by a doctor or nurse. Often recommended once a year, the clinician uses their hands to feel for lumps or abnormalities in the patient's breast. Self-exams are performed where the patient uses their hands to feel for any abnormalities along with a visual examination for any changes in the breast from the prior exam.

An experienced and well-qualified physician will be able to provide the best recommendations on how and when a particular patient should be screened for breast cancer. This is particularly true for women who are deemed at increased risk for breast cancer, as this will invariably mean more frequent screening. Failing to properly screen for breast cancer could not only increase the risk of medical malpractice to the doctor, it could be mean the different between a good prognosis and a poor one for the patient.

Assuming women are given accurate information about their risk for breast cancer, some still choose not to believe their risk is accurate. According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, 1 in 5 women who underwent extensive screening for breast cancer risk did not believe the actual breast cancer risk they were given. The most common reason why some disagreed with their risk was that their family history made them more or less likely to develop breast cancer. According to most breast cancer specialist, only first-degree relatives (ie., mother, sister, or daughter) impacts a patient's breast cancer risk. The author of the study, Dr. Angela Fagerlin, says "[i]f women don't believe their risk numbers, it does not allow them to make informed medical decisions." For this reason, it is especially important for women to properly educate themselves on their breast cancer risk and undergo the recommended screenings based on that risk. After all, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the likelihood it can be effectively treated.

Medical News Today, "As Many As 1 In 5 Women Don't Believe Their Breast Cancer Risk," August 19, 2013.
WebMD, Breast Cancer, Viewed August 23, 2013.

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