Published on October 14, 2021

Don’t Make October’s Message About The Color Pink Use Autumn To Schedule Your Mammogram

It’s October and while the trees may be wearing orange and yellow, women everywhere are wearing pink to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month. 

Dr. Esmond Yen
Dr. Esmond Yen

Dr. Esmond Yen, M.D. has something to say about all this pink. “Don’t just wear pink and buy a pink purse,” says Dr. Yen, board certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology with Premier Suburban Medical Group. “Use this month as a reminder to actually schedule a mammogram and get screened. Whether or not breast cancer runs in your family, every woman over 40 should be discussing a mammogram with their doctor.” 

“Many patients ask why they should have a mammogram if they have no family history of breast cancer, if they’ve breast fed and if they don’t smoke,” says Lisa Abu-Samra, Certified Nurse Midwife. “My answer to that is over 75% of women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history, many of them have breast fed and many others have never smoked in their lives.” 

“Most incidences of breast cancer occur in women over the age of 50,” says Husam Marheh, M.D., board certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology. “Breast cancer is the second most common cancer, just after skin cancer, in women. Over 10% of women will develop invasive breast cancer sometime in her life, with about 276,000 new cases diagnosed in 2020.” 

When Should Women Get A Mammogram?

According to the CDC, women between the ages of 50 and 74 who are at average risk of breast cancer should get a mammogram every two to three years. Women in this age group with factors that increase the risk of developing breast cancer after age 50 may consider getting screened more frequently. These factors include:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Menopause occurring after age 55
  • Having dense breasts
  • Tobacco use or exposure to other carcinogens
  • Having taken diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriage 

Women between the ages of 40 and 49 should carefully consider their risk factors with their physician to decide when to begin mammograms. Factors that put women under age 40 at a higher risk to develop breast cancer, prompting an earlier start to mammogram screenings,  include:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Menstrual periods beginning before age 12
  • Having dense breasts
  • Tobacco use or exposure to other carcinogens 
When There Is A Family History of Breast Cancer

Screening recommendations change when a person has a family history of breast cancer. “When a woman has a first-degree relative with breast or ovarian cancer,” says Alyssa Monsivais, Certified Nurse Midwife, “they are at an elevated risk of breast cancer themselves. A first-degree relative is your mom, sister or daughter. The risk also increases when a person has multiple family members with breast or ovarian cancer.” 

Compared with 3% of the general population developing breast cancer, a family history raises a person’s likelihood of developing the disease to between 30 to 60%, says Dr. Marheh. “If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, consider genetic testing to identify the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations for women and for men. Studies indicate that having a genetic tendency in your family increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women and increases the risk of breast and prostate cancer in men.” 

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are cancer fighting genes that suppress the development of tumors. When these genes work as they should, they control the growth and divisions of cells in the breast, ovaries and more, suppressing the development of cancer. When these genes mutate, they no longer do their job. 

When patients do test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, it’s recommended they begin getting regular mammograms at an earlier age. They may also consider having MRIs to addition to a mammogram and making preventative lifestyle changes. 

Dr. Yen says, “In instances where multiple family members and first-degree relatives have developed breast cancer and the variants are found through genetic testing, patients may discuss prophylactic, or risk-reducing surgery, to remove at-risk tissues.” Dr. Yen points out that regular screening must continue, as the surgeries reduce risk, but cannot completely prevent cancer. 

Should All Women Get Genetic Testing?

Some women may opt for genetic testing even if they don’t have a family history of breast cancer. Ms. Abu-Samra says, “Some women feel an immense sense of relief when they get a negative result. A positive result can give women a clear plan for their health care going forward, including making the changes they need to reduce their risk of cancer developing.” 

Early Detection Benefits

Regular mammograms, scheduled within the time frames appropriate for each patient, increase the chances of detecting any cancer when it’s very small and localized, in one area of the breast, giving the patient the best chance at effective treatment and full recovery. “Early detection means early treatment,” says Refat Baridi, M.D., Hematology & Oncology. “Smaller cancers are typically easier to treat, with more successful outcomes.” 

Overcoming Mammogram Barriers

Patients do not need a doctor’s recommendation or referral to get a mammogram. “If you haven’t seen a doctor, you can still make an appointment for a screening,” says Ms. Monsivais. “Patients over 40 can call our offices or visit the Silver Cross Hospital website to schedule a mammogram without making a doctor’s appointment first.” 

Ms. Abu-Samra notes that many women are nervous about having a mammogram. “They may have heard stories about intense pain that makes them hesitant to schedule. The truth is that a mammogram will probably be uncomfortable, but it should never cause real pain. Smart scheduling of your mammogram also helps reduce discomfort. Track your period and schedule your screening for the week after your period ends, the time when breasts are least tender.” 

Get That Mammogram Scheduled And Consider Reducing Risk

During October, it’s not only the perfect time to schedule - and go to - a mammogram screening. It’s also the perfect time to change the lifestyle choices that can raise a woman’s risk. 

“Use October to begin to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Statistics show that being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting tobacco products and cutting back alcohol intake all reduce your risk of breast cancer,” says Ms. Monsivais. “Healthy resolutions can happen at any time. They don’t have to wait until January 1.”