Breast Cancer Screening, The Importance of Mammograms
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with 1 in 8 women developing it during their lifetime. Each year, approximately 230,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and about 40,000 of them will die from this disease. That’s the bad news. The good news is that early detection of breast cancer allows more effective treatment of breast cancer and saves lives. The primary strategy to detect breast cancer early is the mammogram.
Mammograms are an x-ray of the breast, and are able to detect breast cancer tumors before they can be felt and before they produce any symptoms. Mammograms have been shown to reduce breast cancer death by 15-23% in clinical trials.
While there is some disagreement over when and how often women should get mammograms, there is no disagreement among major government and private cancer agencies as to the importance of getting mammograms. The two primary agencies that determine screening guidelines in the U.S. are the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). The USPSTF recommends mammograms every other year for women aged 50-69, while the ACS recommends mammograms every year for women aged 40 and older.
Screening women beginning at age 40 and performing annual mammograms, as recommended by the ACS, does further reduce breast cancer death as compared to the USPSTF guidelines. However, it also increases unnecessary procedures as a result of more false positives with the more frequent screening. Talk to your health care provider about what is right for you based on your family history and other risk factors.
Some women elect not to get mammograms out of fear that the radiation from a mammogram will cause breast cancer. While it is true that there is radiation from a mammogram, the amount is so small that the benefit far outweighs the risk. To put this in perspective, flying in an airplane from California to New York exposes a woman to the same amount of radiation she will get from a mammogram. Put another way, 4 women out of 1 million will get breast cancer from a lifetime of mammograms, while 165,000 out of 1 million lives will be saved by those same mammograms.
In addition to the early detection of breast cancer, another important strategy is to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer through diet and lifestyle. All of the following recommendations can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer:
Be physically active – Optimally, you should be physically active at least 45-60 minutes per day. As little as 2 ½ hours of brisk walking per week, however, was found to reduce risk by 18%.
Maintain normal weight – Fat cells produce estrogen, which increases the risk of breast cancer.
Avoid excessive alcohol – Women should limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink daily. Two to five drinks daily increases breast cancer risk by 150%.
Breast feeding – This may lower risk slightly.
Eat brassicas - Brassica family vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts, may lower the risk of breast cancer. These vegetables contain sulfurophanes, which have anti-cancer effects against many types of tumors, as well as indole-3-carbinol, which modifies estrogen metabolism and specifically reduces breast cancer risk.
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To see a naturopathic doctor for a detailed analysis of breast cancer risk and prevention strategies, including your personal 5 year and lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, or for assistance with specific health concerns, please make a selection below.
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