Trident Health System - October 01, 2023

Breast cancer basics

A 2022 report by the American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed that breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer among women in the U.S. The report estimates that in 2022, 287,850 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer with an estimated 43,250 will succumb to the disease. This is a 0.5 percent increase in the diagnoses in the past decade.

Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death for women

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among white women after lung cancer; however, it is the leading cause of cancer death among black women. While the ACS has identified that black women have a 4% lower incidence rate of breast cancer, the death rate of black women from cancer has remained 40 percent higher than white women for the past decade. Inherent risk factors (ex. female at birth, genetics), poor access to screening mammograms, and poor access to high-quality treatments contribute to the disparity among races. Additionally, black women are prone to more aggressive forms of breast cancer, like triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

The good news is that detecting breast cancer earlier for all women, regardless of race and ethnicity, and for all types of breast cancer is associated with a better chance of cure.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a safe, low dose radiograph that provides an image of the interior of the breast. The image highlights abnormal breast tissue such as calcifications, masses, asymmetries, and architectural distortions. In itself, an abnormal area on a mammogram is not a confirmation of cancer. A radiologist reads the image and determines if an abnormality may need additional imaging or testing.

2D and 3D mammograms

A traditional 2D mammogram requires the breast to be compressed while the machine takes x-ray images from two different angles – top to bottom and side to side. For a 3D mammogram the breast is still compressed, but the image is more detailed. The machine moves around the breast in an arc. A computer then pulls the image together as a series of thin slices for the radiologist to review as a three-dimensional image.

According to the ACS, 3D mammograms are becoming the most common type of mammogram as it appears to produce a better image of the breast tissue, which in turn results in fewer patient call backs for additional imaging. The organization reports that there is currently a large study in progress to determine the best type of mammogram. ACS currently recommends either a 2D or 3D mammogram for an annual screening mammogram.

Annual screenings

Having a regular, yearly screening mammogram is the best way to be sure breast cancer is detected early. This allows for you and the radiologist to have a clear picture of what your healthy breast tissue looks like and changes in the tissue from year to year can be identified.

Mammograms are the best tool to help you find breast cancer early, even before you feel a lump or change in your breast tissue. Early detection typically helps to lessen the need for aggressive treatment and chances of survival are improved. (Please note, however, that if you feel a lump or detect a change in your breast, you should see your doctor right away despite a recent normal mammogram.)

Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, recommends that women aged 40 and older consult their doctor annually about a mammogram and clinical breast exam. Women should talk with their physicians regularly starting at the age of 25 regarding their individualized risk for breast cancer, as higher risk women may benefit from genetic counseling or early screening.

Other breast health tools

If you’re looking for ways to proactively participate in your breast health journey outside of scheduling your first mammogram some opportunities include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • Being familiar with your breasts by doing monthly self-breast exams and promptly reporting any changes to a healthcare provider,

Being familiar with your breasts is a tool to help you keep track of how your breasts look and feel. Knowing how your breasts look and feel normally can and should empower you to share any changes with your healthcare provider immediately.

We are committed to providing comprehensive breast health services, including mammograms, breast ultrasounds and biopsies.

Schedule your mammogram here.

October 1, 2023
Women can now consider physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight as tools in lowering their risk for breast cancer.
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