By Renae Kimble
Program Coordinator, Cancer Services Program of Niagara County
It is important that women are educated, supported and empowered regarding their own breast health.
Myths are often used as excuses for a woman to not obtain a much-needed breast cancer screening - a mammogram, which could save her life, if the cancer is detected early. An example of a classic myth used is: If you do not have a family history of breast cancer, you do not need to get a mammogram.
Not true. About seven out of 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors, including a first degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with breast cancer. Other risk factors include: race, gender, aging, genetics, drinking alcohol or obesity.
The reality is, all women are at risk for breast cancer. The facts are, according to the American Cancer Society, that about one in eight United States women, or 12.4 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
In 2016, an estimated 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed, along with 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. About 40,450 women are expected to die in 2016 from breast cancer, though there has been a decrease in the death rates since 1989, with larger decreases in women under age 50. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advancements, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
For women in the United States, breast cancer death rates are higher than the death rates for any other type of cancer, besides lung cancer.
Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30 percent of cancers diagnosed in women are breast cancers.
In women under age 45, breast cancer is more common in African American women than white women. Overall, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer, because they are diagnosed at later stages and have the lowest survival rate at each stage of diagnosis. Some other contributing factors are a lack of medical coverage, barriers to early detection and screening. There are also greater delays in follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram, which also play a role in the lower survival rates among African American women.
As of early 2016, there were more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States. This figure includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment for cancer.
A woman's risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 15 percent of women who get breast cancer have a family member who has been diagnosed with it.
About 5 to 10 percent of women who get breast cancer are thought to be caused by inherited gene mutations, abnormal changes of the genes passed through families. In other words, it is hereditary.
Another myth is mammograms cause cancer. Again, this is simply not true. Mammograms use very small doses of radiation - it is like getting an X-ray. A mammogram is a fast, safe way to find breast cancer early when it is easiest to treat. A mammogram looks for the disease when there are no noticeable symptoms.
The truth is that the risk of harm from a mammogram is very low and the benefit of finding cancer early far outweighs the risk.
I cannot implore you enough to schedule your mammogram.
If you have health insurance, a mammogram is covered with no co-pay or cost sharing. Women, it costs you absolutely nothing!
If you do not have health insurance, you may be able to get a free mammogram through the Cancer Services Program of Niagara County, a service of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, and the New York State Department of Health, if you are aged 40-64. Just pick up the telephone and call us at 716-278-4898.