October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we’re getting a head start on busting the myths that may be holding you back from getting a mammogram.
Dr. Brett Parkinson, MD, director of the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center in Murray, explained that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide (1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer), yet Utah is among the lowest in the nation for mammography screening.
Dr. Parkinson is hoping to change the numbers by encouraging women over age 40 to get yearly mammograms. If you’re procrastinating the screening for whatever reason, these eight myths may help put your mind at ease.
Myth #1: Harm Outweighs Benefit
Dr. Parkinson said people believe that the harms of screening before the age of 50 and after the age of 74 may outweigh the benefits. He said the incidence of breast cancer doubles between the ages of 35 and 40, and it increases further with every decade of life. He said age 40 is a good time to start screening as approximately 20% of breast cancers occur in women under 50.
Myth #2: Breast Cancer Over-Diagnosis
Another dangerous myth is that 10-50% of breast cancers are over-diagnosed, meaning some tumors may not be lethal if left untreated. Dr. Parkinson explained there is no documented case of an invasive breast cancer that has regressed without treatment.
Myth #3: False Positive Harm
When a woman is called back from screening for additional tests, it’s not really a false positive examination. Those examinations are interpreted as “incomplete,” not positive. A false positive is when a test says a woman has cancer and she doesn’t.
Myth #4: Anxiety Associated with Abnormal Screening
A byproduct of the false positive myth is the anxiety that a woman experiences when called back for an abnormal screening mammogram. Dr. Parkinson explained that an overwhelming majority of women would gladly endure a few days of anxiety if the result was to find an early breast cancer.
Myth #5: Imaging Radiation Causes Cancer
Dr. Parkinson said he still talks to women who choose not to be screened because of the myth that screening may cause breast cancer. The risk of dying from breast cancer, which is very real since one in eight women will develop this disease, dwarfs the theoretical risk that the small radiation dose from a mammogram will induce malignancy. The real risk is about the same as taking a round-trip flight to Paris.
Myth #6: Dense Breast Tissue Diminishes Effectiveness
Dr. Parkinson said it concerns him when women with dense breast tissue think mammograms are ineffective because of it. He followed that although screening is less sensitive in dense tissue, it still picks up most breast cancers. And now with 3-D mammography, doctors can find even more cancers in women with dense and very dense tissue.
Myth #7: Screening Not Cost-effective
The myth that screening isn’t cost-effective is simply not true. What isn’t cost-effective is finding a late-stage breast cancer, one that will be expensive to treat, debilitating for the patient and most often terminal. You can find five early breast cancers for the same price as treating one late-stage cancer.
Myth #8: Adequacy of Screenings Every Other Year
The final myth is that it’s okay to screen women every other year instead of annually. The American Cancer Society’s position paper on mammography screening, which was published in JAMA in October 2015, says mortality increases by 20 percent when screening occurs every other year instead of every year. That’s an important number to remember.
Visit intermountainhealthcare.org for more information.
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