Breast cancer awareness month and the medical community

October is National Breasts Cancer Awareness month.According to the American Cancer Society, about 12 percent of women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.1 That’s one of the reasons why dedicating the month of October to breast cancer awareness has become such an important development in recent years.

Breast cancer on the decline

Partially due to campaigns like National Breast Cancer Awareness month, the rates of breast cancer in the U.S. have been in decline since 2000. There was an especially precipitous decline of 7 percent between 2002 and 2003, which is believed to be due to the decrease in the use of hormone treatments in menopausal women.

However, just because the fight against breast cancer has been going relatively well over the past decade or so, that doesn’t mean the end of the disease is in sight. The cancer society still predicts that more than 232,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2013 alone, and nearly 40,000 women will die from it in the same year.

Mammogram controversy

Among the many aspects of the fight that need to be improved is the ability to clarify mammogram requirements and other screening processes. Confusion over when, and how often, women over the age of 40 are supposed to get screenings has been a controversial topic in recent years.

That controversy has made the decision-making process complicated for women in that age range. It has also made treatment and advice more difficult to determine for health professionals, from oncologists to certified medical assistants to pharmacy technicians. There are conflicting opinions among health professionals and cancer experts over when women should get mammograms.2

“The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual mammograms for all women from age 40,” Debbie Saslow, director of the Breast & Gynecologic Cancer section of the American Cancer Society, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

On the other hand, that is no longer a hard and fast rule, as recent research has shown that mammograms are far from an efficient way to detect breast cancer.

“One of the complications is that the definition of ‘early’ has changed,” Dr. Seema A. Khan, a surgical oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told the Sun-Times.

The argument over what constitutes early screening, when it should take place and the general efficacy of the procedure, will likely go on for some time to come. However, with increased awareness, the fight against breast cancer promises to continue making progress.

1 “What Are the Key Statistics About Breast Cancer?” cancer.org.
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-key-statistics

2 Zeldes, Leah, “Aware of Breast Cancer Prevention, but Confused About Mammograms,” Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 16, 2013.
http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/22941558-423/aware-of-breast-cancer-prevention-but-confused-about-mammograms.html

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