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How Do Breast Cancer Screenings Improve Health Outcomes? Does It Truly Improve Health?

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Breast cancer screening is examining a woman's breasts for cancer prior to the onset of any symptoms or indicators of cancer. Even though it cannot prevent it from happening, breast cancer screening can help discover breast cancer early, when it is simpler to treat.

breast cancer screening is important for women

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What is the screening rate for breast cancer?

All women, regardless of their race/ethnicity or risk of breast cancer, should be screened for breast cancer using mammography. Some women are less likely than others to get mammograms.

black women getting screened for breast cancer

Breast cancer screening inequalities in the United States can be attributed to a variety of factors:

Health Insurance's Role in Getting Screening Mammography

Mammograms are far less common among women without health insurance than among those who do.

  • 39 percent of those with no health insurance had a mammogram in the past 2 years

  • 75 percent of those with health insurance had a mammogram in the past 2 years

Although a lack of health insurance is the primary cause of breast cancer screening disparities in the United States, other factors also play a role. Even among insured women in 2018, just 75% had a recent mammogram.

Race, Ethnicity, and Breast Cancer Mortality

According to the same data, black women have similar rates of screening mammography use as white women, Hispanic women, and Asian American women.

However, Black women had a greater rate of dying from breast cancer. Between 2014-2018, Black women had a 39 percent higher breast cancer mortality rate than white women.

Other barriers to breast cancer screening

  • Low education level

  • Lack of knowledge of breast cancer risks and screening methods

  • Lack of access to care

  • Fear of receiving bad news or experiencing discomfort from the mammography

Many obstacles may prevent some women from getting breast cancer screenings. Increased access, awareness, and sensitivity may help remove some barriers.

What are the benefits of breast cancer screening?

Almost every test or process has both benefits and limitations. Before having any test, you should be aware of them so that you can make an informed decision that is best for you. Even though no screening test is 100% accurate, science shows that getting regular mammograms lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer.

There are many benefits to breast cancer screening:

  1. Mammography can help detect early-stage breast cancers that may not be detectable by physical examination.

  2. Mammography helps to decrease the risk of death from breast cancer.

  3. Mammography can help reduce the need for treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

  4. Mammography may also increase life expectancy. While the size of this increase is unknown, it is clear that there are many benefits to getting screened for breast cancer.

how breast cancer screenings improve health outcomes

The limitations of breast cancer screenings:

  1. Especially in younger women, a mammogram may show that you have breast cancer even though you don't have it. This is called a "false positive." False-positive mammogram results mean that more tests need to be done, which takes time and can cause unnecessary stress.

  2. Mammography may miss breast cancer even if it is present, which is known as a "false negative".

  3. "Overdiagnosis" is another potential disadvantage of screening. This means discovering something on a mammogram that is breast cancer or has the potential to become breast cancer but is such a low-risk sort of tumor that if left alone would never have caused any health problems.

  4. Mammograms are X-ray tests that expose the breasts to radiation. Even if each test has a relatively little amount of radiation emitted, the cumulative effect is significant.

What is the recommended age to start mammogram screenings?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women start getting mammograms at age 45. Mammograms can often find changes in the breast that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. There is a small chance of overdiagnosis with screening mammograms, but it is important to remember that the benefits of early detection usually outweigh this risk.

If a woman's doctor finds something during a mammogram that needs further evaluation, more tests or an ultrasound may be needed. If the screening misses something that turns out to be cancerous, she will likely have to go back for additional screenings. However, digital breast tomosynthesis may lower the chances of being called back for follow-up testing and finding more cancers. However, it should not be used for women with average breasts.

Mammogram screenings are available in both 2D and 3D formats. The ACS recommends both types of mammograms as being in line with screening recommendations. Women should be able to choose between 2D and 3D mammography if they or their doctor believes one would be more appropriate.

How often should women go to a clinic to get screening tests for breast cancer?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has released new guidelines for breast cancer screening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These new recommendations are based on existing evidence and aim to provide clarity for women at average risk for breast cancer.

Women at average risk for breast cancer are the focus of these guidelines. Women with a personal history of breast cancer, strong family history of breast cancer, or genetic mutations that increase risk are considered to be at average risk and should not screen.

Women between 40-45 should get mammograms every year. Women 45 to 54 years old should get annual mammograms. Women who are 55 and older can switch to mammograms every other year or continue yearly screenings. There is no benefit in performing a breast exam as part of annual screening for women at average risk, regardless of age.

Women should know what to expect when getting a mammogram and understand how the test cannot detect cancer that isn't detected by physical examination alone.

The comparison of health outcomes between early and late diagnosis of breast cancer?

There is a difference in outcomes between early and late detection of breast cancer. In fact, when breast cancer is detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 98%. However, when it is detected at a later stage, the five-year survival rate falls to 22%. Therefore, it's important for women to get screened regularly for breast cancer so that it can be detected and treated as early as possible.

Missed screening appointments can have negative impacts on the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, resulting in many diagnoses at advanced stages. For example, if a woman misses her mammogram appointment, she may not be able to detect the disease until it has progressed significantly. This could lead to worse outcomes for the woman and could even result in her death from breast cancer.

It's important for women to gather information about the potential impact of missed screening appointments for early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer this year so that they can take steps to minimize any negative effects on their health. By doing this, we can help ensure that more women receive timely treatment for this serious disease.

What types of breast cancer screenings, breast imaging and examinations are available?

There are many types of breast cancer screenings available. You may be familiar with mammograms, but there are other screenings as well. Some of these include ultrasound, MRI, and PET scans.

Each of these screenings has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, a mammogram is a type of X-ray that can help find tumors in the breasts. However, it cannot always detect early signs of cancer. Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. This can be helpful for finding small tumors or lumps in the breast tissue. MRIs use magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of tissues inside the body.

What are the overall recommendations when it comes to breast cancer screenings breast health education and breast care?

When it comes to breast cancer screenings, the overall recommendations are based on expert opinion. That being said, women at average risk of breast cancer should be offered screening mammography between the ages of 40 and 50. After that, screenings should continue every 1 or 2 years.

It's important to have a discussion of benefits and harms when it comes to biennial screenings and shared decision-making. In addition, biennial screening mammography is reasonable and may be effective in reducing the frequency of harms.

Women at average risk should continue screening mammography until age 75 years old. And finally, breast self-exam should be avoided in average-risk women due to a lack of evidence of benefit and the risk of false positive tests.

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines: Summary

Breast cancer screening guidelines have changed over time and from organization to organization.

The American Cancer Society and the USPSTF recommend women aged 40 to 49 years should have mammography every year.

The American Cancer Society, the USPSTF, and the ACS all agree that women aged 50 to 74 years with average risk should have mammography every other year, or annually if they are at high risk for breast cancer.

The USPSTF is against annual screening in women aged 75 years and older while the ACS and the American College of Radiology recommend annual screening in this age group.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

A number of factors contribute to your risk of developing breast cancer.

Factors that increase your risk include:

  • Getting old as your risk increases simultaneously with your age. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after the age of 50.

  • Being female as 85% of all breast cancers occur in women.

  • Having dense breasts as the mammogram may not be able to detect cancer in dense breasts.

  • Having a family history of breast cancer.

  • Being overweight or obese.

  • Drinking alcohol in excess.

  • Having your first pregnancy after the age of 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can all increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Women who received radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before the age of 30 are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.

Even though you cannot completely eliminate the risks, there are some things you can do to improve your breast health:

  • Women who are not physically active or overweight have a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Maintaining and being physically active can actually save your life.

  • Drinking alcohol is known to increase the risk of getting breast cancer by roughly %7. So try limiting your alcohol intake.

  • Eating a well-balanced diet.

  • Taking vitamin D as it is important for maintaining regular breast cell growth.

Patient Advocate Groups

Cancer advocate groups work to improve the lives of cancer patients. They accomplish this in several ways:

  • Providing assistance to cancer patients and their families

  • Raising awareness about cancer

  • Improving the quality of cancer care

  • Making sure patients receive timely, appropriate care, information, and financial assistance.

Here are some of the breast cancer advocate groups:

  • After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

  • Breast Cancer Alliance

  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation

  • Susan G. Komen

  • Sisters Network, Inc.

  • Unite for HER

  • Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Breast Health Education

It is very important to empower women to educate themselves about their bodies and health.

Women should learn about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, how to perform a monthly breast self-examination (BSE), and what steps they can take to reduce their risk of developing this disease.

Aside from the steps you can take to improve your breast health, there are some basic facts about breasts that every woman should know:

Firstly, you need to understand your breasts. Women with extremely dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer. On a mammogram, fatty tissue appears black, while dense tissue appears white. Unfortunately, suspicious masses such as tumors also appear white.

While doing BSEs, you need to know what you're looking for:

  • Changes in your breast size or shape

  • Breast swelling, redness, darkening, or warmth

  • A lump or hardening of your breast

  • Breast rash, lesions, or dimpling

  • Pain in one of your breasts

  • Nipple discharge or inversion

Plus, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides breast cancer education to women who are uninsured, underinsured, or lack access to other resources. It also provides clinical breast exams and mammograms for women who are at high risk for breast cancer.

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