As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program ® of
the Prevent Cancer Foundation ® , I want to share the following information as we
observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
We know so much more about breast cancer now than we did when Breast Cancer
Awareness Month was established in 1985. Still, an estimated 268,600 women (and
2,670 men) in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed this year and 41,760 women (and
500 men) will die of the disease in 2019. In Maryland alone, an estimated 5,290 women
will be diagnosed and 830 will die of breast cancer.
Although Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings more attention to the disease in
October, new information about the disease and screening options emerges year-round.
I urge you to take a few minutes to learn about updates you might have missed earlier
in the year.
This year the American College of Physicians announced new screening guidelines,
recommending that women ages 50 to 74 at average risk get mammograms every other
year and women ages 40 to 49 talk with their doctors about when to start. There has
been a lot of controversy in recent years over breast cancer screening guidelines, but
the Prevent Cancer Foundation ® and many other health organizations still encourage
women of average risk to begin annual screening at age 40 for the best chance of
detecting cancer early, when successful treatment is more likely.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can increase your risk for breast and several other
types of cancer. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now
gives a “B” recommendation for women with personal or family histories of breast,
ovarian, Fallopian tube or peritoneal cancers, or “an ancestry associated with breast
cancer susceptibility” (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent), to receive familial
risk assessments. A positive assessment should be followed by genetic counseling,
which may result in a recommendation for genetic testing. Because private insurers are
required to cover services with USPSTF “A” and “B” ratings, this “B” rating gives more
women access to information about their cancer risk so they can better make decisions
about preventive services.
New screening technology
New technology is expanding screening options, especially for women with dense
breast tissue who may be at greater risk for breast cancer. (Dense breast tissue is also
harder to examine with traditional mammography.) 3D mammography enables
radiologists to view the breast from more angles, allowing for better detection.
Researchers are also exploring the use of molecular breast imaging in combination with
mammograms to better detect breast cancer, though this is not yet widely available.
Liquid biopsies are currently used to monitor disease progression in metastatic breast
cancer patients and may also be helpful in early detection and treatment.
As medical experts continue to explore ways to improve early detection and treatment
for breast cancer, you can reduce your risk by practicing healthy lifestyle habits.
Exercise at least 150 minutes a week, limit or avoid alcohol, maintain a healthy weight
and don’t smoke. (If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.) To learn more,
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.