COLUMN: Your mammogram could save your life | Opinion

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I remember overhearing my health care provider telling me that my most recent mammogram was abnormal and just asking, “How is this possible?” “

Even during COVID-19, I have never missed a screening, and I regularly check my breasts at home for bumps or other indications of a bigger problem. Before my mammogram in March, I hadn’t felt anything unusual, so I was sure it would be another regular screening.

I was wrong. So bad, in fact, that I am writing to you after having had a preventative double mastectomy – a decision I made to combat my high risk of breast cancer. Without this mammogram, I would never have known what decisions I could make to give myself the best chance for a healthy future.

Mammography is the use of low-energy x-rays to examine the breasts and detect areas of abnormality in the breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, and mammograms are the only proven method to reduce the death rate through early detection.

Early detection of breast cancer reduces the risk of dying from the disease by 25 to 30% or more. With early detection, you can access early (and often less extensive) treatment, which reduces the risk of cancer growing and increases your chances of survival.

If you are at high risk for breast cancer – you have dense breasts or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, for example – schedule a mammogram screening as soon as possible.

Otherwise, doctors recommend that women start conversations with their health care provider about mammograms at age 40.

Even if you don’t have any risk factors, it’s still important not to miss your annual mammograms: about 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease. Plus, it’s especially critical as you get older. The probability of developing breast cancer within 10 years is 1 in 68 after 40 years; 1 in 43 after age 50; and 1 in 28 after 60 years.

Despite your understanding of the importance of mammograms, you might still think that it’s okay to miss just one screening. Let me stop you there and demystify this idea.

I have never missed my annual mammogram and my doctors have always identified areas of concern related to a high risk of breast cancer that led to me having a preventive double mastectomy. A large study of nearly 550,000 women over a 24-year period found that women who skip even one scheduled mammogram before a breast cancer diagnosis has a significantly higher risk of dying from breast cancer. Cancer.

See how critical these projections are?

Keep in mind that this is not the only part of breast health to consider. Because mammograms can correctly identify 87% of early-stage breast cancers, they literally save your life. Yet the remaining 13% may go unnoticed, depending on certain risk factors.

This means that high-quality annual screening mammograms along with regular clinical breast exams are the most effective ways to detect breast cancer at an early stage.

COVID-19 has caused a sharp drop in breast cancer screenings by mammography, lowering the number of screenings done from 56,000 in 2019 to 27,500 in 2020. In the United States, research shows the decline has been particularly severe among women of color and those living in rural areas, who are already a high-risk population that consistently falls between the cracks of health equity.

So where does all of this leave us?

Due to the reduced number of mammograms performed in 2020, Breastcancer.org reports that in 2021, approximately 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women, along with 49,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

My friends, as I tell you about recovering from a very difficult decision I made, I urge you to do the same. If you had booked a cancer screening and missed it due to the pandemic, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to book it again.

Mammograms save lives. While you are getting ready for your date, and even after having one, be sure to have your own breast exams every month. They are quick and easy to do, and they can also help you spot any abnormalities for further exploration with your care provider.

Savita Ginde, MD, is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health. Today, she is the health care manager at STRIDE Community Health Center, where she oversees all of STRIDE’s health services and leads their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Savita Ginde, MD, is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health. Today, she is the health care manager at STRIDE Community Health Center, where she oversees all of STRIDE’s health services and leads their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

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