October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The strides made in the battle against breast cancer have been significant, and more and more women are getting screening exams, especially mammography, which are saving lives. Still, Idaho has one of the lowest rates of preventative health care screening, and much more can be done to raise breast cancer awareness in our state.
Currently, the US Preventative Task Force recommends mammography for average risk women aged 50 to 75 every two years. This 2009 recommendation surprised me, as I thought the standard was every year for this age group. However, there apparently is no evidence that increasing the frequency to once a year incurs any additional benefit, except for high risk women. This includes patients who have the breast cancer (BRCA 1 or BRCA 2) gene mutation or those who have had chest radiation. Also surprising is their recommendation that mammography for women aged 40 to 49 at average risk is discouraged, because the data shows no statistical benefit at decreasing the mortality of breast cancer in this age group, except for women again at high risk. The Task Force currently has no conclusive recommendations regarding mammography in women over 75. Additionally, a physician directed breast exam seems to decrease mortality only in locales where mammography services are not available. Despite these guidelines, it is my belief that screening and frequency should be individualized to the patient, and that a patient’s values and preferences should be a major factor in making the decision that is right for her.
Locally, we have a wonderful resource for women who do not have medical insurance or money for mammography. The Komen Grant provides this service free of charge to women in North Idaho who qualify. Contact Panhandle Health Department for more information on this valuable and life saving program, and together, let’s stamp out breast cancer.
If you are a patient of North Idaho Direct Primary Care and have concerns regarding breast symptoms, contact our office to schedule an appointment for a breast exam. If you are not a member of our practice and have further questions about our program , you can click here to review the benefits of becoming a member. If you found this article helpful, you can click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter.