During the month of October, you are likely to see a lot of pink to remind you it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I encourage you to take time this month to refresh your knowledge of current screening guidelines, make sure you are up to date on your mammogram and share this important message with the women in your life.
An estimated 281,550 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, and an estimated 43,600 women will die of the disease this year. In Maryland alone, an estimated 5,470 will be diagnosed and 860 will die of breast cancer this year.
Many women delayed their routine screening appointments this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus was not the only reason people are behind on their appointments. A recent Prevent Cancer Foundation® survey found that while 31% of women delayed breast and cervical cancer screenings because of fear of COVID-19 exposure, nearly as many delayed appointments because of fears about feeling pain, discomfort or awkwardness during the exams.
There’s also an information gap. According to the survey, 42% of women do not know how often they should be screened for breast cancer. That number is even higher for women of color. The Prevent Cancer Foundation and many other health organizations support the recommendation that women at average risk begin annual mammograms at age 40. Women at higher risk should talk to their health care providers about beginning screening at an earlier age or screening more often. Your provider may also suggest other screening options, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or 3D mammography.
Given that Black women are 40% more likely than white women to die from breast cancer, and it is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women, it is especially vital for Black and Hispanic women to stay up to date on screening. Screening can help find cancer earlier when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Women with a family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer or those with inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, are considered high risk. Other factors that may increase your risk include beginning your menstrual period before age 12 or menopause after age 55, using hormone replace therapy (HRT) with estrogen and progesterone for more than 10 years, or currently or recently using birth control pills. Talk to your health care provider about your screening options if you are high risk.
Now is the time to learn more about your personal risk factors and prioritize your health. Make that phone call today. After you’ve scheduled your own appointment, encourage your sisters, moms, grandmas, daughters and friends to get screened as well. Early detection saves lives. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/backonthebooks.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.