By Deepali Patni, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.

Although early detection and mammogram screenings are a popular topic in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they should be a year-round conversation. The value of detecting breast cancer early and kicking it to the curb can be a life-saving proposition.

Breast cancer ranks as the most common type of cancer for women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The research agency estimates 281,550 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and roughly 15% of diagnoses will lead to death (43,600). Women have more treatment options available when breast cancer is discovered early – at a stage 0, 1, or 2.

Mammograms During a Pandemic

Cancer isn’t going away during COVID-19, so routine screenings shouldn’t either. Understandably, mammograms dropped as much as 80% at various times during the pandemic, according to the Journal of National Cancer Institute, when hospitals and clinics closed for safety concerns. Those delayed or missed screenings could translate into 10,000 additional deaths (relating to breast and colorectal cancer) in the next 10 years.

Top Excuses We Hope to Never Hear

Unfortunately, women find all kinds of excuses to avoid getting an annual mammogram. Do these sound familiar?

  1. I’m so busy with my work and family; it’s hard to find time.
  2. I’m afraid it’s going to hurt.
  3. There is no history of breast cancer in my family, so I’m OK.

Women lead busy lives, so that’s not an excuse. Life won’t calm down, so you need to make your health a priority. And yes, having a mammogram is a little awkward, but it’s a quick (and necessary) step to getting your diagnosis.

Evolving Technology

Through the years, technology has evolved in the mammography world as in other areas in medicine. 3D mammography (digital breast tomosynthesis) is becoming more commonplace and a best practice in women’s health for breast cancer-detecting technology. These 3D images enable breast tissue to be viewed in individual segments.

This technology is especially relevant for women with dense breasts because it decreases the chance of getting false positives and heightens the ability to view smaller tumors.

Make a Plan

Women over the age of 40 are encouraged to schedule annual mammograms, even without symptoms. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, says the American Cancer Society. Early screening is the best method to catch tumors before they can even be felt.

Women with a family history of breast cancer should speak with their doctor about the age to begin mammogram screenings.

Dr. Deepali Patni is a board-certified Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Downtown at The Shops at Houston Center 4 and Woman’s Center locations. Her clinical interests include well-woman care and gynecological surgery.