Screenings key to beating cancer

Published 7:17 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

Concerns are being raised over recent reports that show mammography rates are in decline.

This is disturbing a lot of heath care professionals because one of the most important ways to make strides in the fight against breast cancer is to ensure that women continue getting their yearly mammogram, which can detect cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.

This year alone, an estimated 182,480 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and an estimated 40,480 will die from the disease. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed nonskin cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer, Cancer Society research shows.

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Dr. Shelby Sanders, an oncologist at Bryan M. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, says early detection of breast cancer through mammography greatly improves treatment options, the chances for successful treatment and survival.

“The beginning stages of breast cancer are usually hard to spot, typically producing no symptoms when the tumor is small and most treatable,” said Sanders. “On average, mammography will detect about 80 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers in women without symptoms.”

Numerous studies have shown that early detection increases treatment options and can save lives. That is why it is so important for women 40 and older to get an annual mammogram.

“We start with a baseline mammogram and through yearly screenings can detect any slight differences,” said Sanders. “When we catch it early, it is usually very minor to treat.”

Sanders recommends yearly mammograms and clinical breast exams for women 40 and older and a clinical breast examination at least once every three years for women between the ages of 20 and 39.

For most women who have a 20 percent to 25 percent or greater lifetime risk of the disease, according to risk assessment tools based mainly on family history, screening mammography should begin at age 30 and continue for as long as a woman is in good health.

“While we do not yet know how to prevent breast cancer, we do know that women who maintain a healthy weight, eat a well-balanced diet and are physically active 45 to 60 minutes on five or more days of the week can reduce their risk of breast cancer,” said Sanders. “Also, limiting alcohol consumption can reduce breast cancer risk.”

Through the Oncology Center at Bryan M. Whitfield Memorial Hospital mammograms can be performed — even without a doctor’s referral.

“You do not need to have a prescription to schedule a mammogram here,” said Anne Ratliff, who is a registered mammography technician at the hospital. “You do need to have a primary physician for us to send the report to, but we can do everything from screening to analysis right here while the patient waits.”

Ratliff says she see a lot of women who start coming in for their mammograms between 60 and 70 years old.

“We would like to see more women start coming in between 35 and 40,” she said. “It is also vital that they back this up with monthly self examinations.”

In recognition of Breast cancer Awareness Month in October, Ratliff has gathered donations from area businesses to construct four gift baskets. Patients who have a mammogram in October will be entered into a drawing for a basket.

Donating businesses include Kafe Buzz/Pamper Me Perfect, The Hair Hut, Lemon Grass, The Mustard Seed, Flowers by Maison de Briques, The Gold Mine, Holiday Cleaners, Radio Shack, El Ranchero Loco, Food World, Kora’s Place, Newton Tire Wal-Mart, Dominos Pizza, Rosie’s Diner, Smokin’ Jacks, Napoleon’s, Parr Chevron, KFC and the Cancer Care Center of Demopolis.