Creating a comprehensive health routine around reproductive health is crucial in allaying the prevalence of breast cancer in women. There are many devastating chronic illnesses that plague women’s reproductive health, but one of the most alarming is a breast cancer diagnosis. Luckily, mammograms serve a vital role in the early detection and possible prevention of late-stage breast cancer. The fact is that 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, which makes mammogram testing all the more relevant for women.
Guidelines for mammogram testing change as science progresses and new information about cancer is published. Mayo Clinic and many other sources recommend annual mammogram screening starting in the early 40s, mainly for purposes of early detection. Breast cancer for women under 50 is rare, however randomized trials from women in their 40s and 50s show that early screenings decrease breast cancer deaths from 15%-29%. Nevertheless, the right time to begin screening varies depending on a woman’s personal history and readiness, so consult your doctor before taking that step.
Some women with a history of breast cancer choose to test for the BRCA2 and BRCA1 genes, which are harmful gene mutations that make women highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. The statistics are quite shocking—about 72% of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation develop breast cancer. Doctors recommend women test for the BRCA mutation if they fall under any of the following categories:
- They have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- They have a specific type of breast cancer
- They received a diagnosis at an uncommonly young (premenopausal) age
The test will not be performed on women who have an average risk (i.e., no specific risk factors) of developing the cancers.
It is also important to note that breast density can affect the outcomes of your mammogram test results because they make it difficult to accurately identify tumors. Breasts are comprised of ducts as well as fatty and fibrous connective tissue, which can be quite dense and appear white on a mammogram. While there is nothing medically concerning about dense breast tissue, a higher proportion of dense breast tissue makes it difficult to see tumors, as tumors also appear white on a mammogram. Some women mistakenly attempt to physically evaluate breast density, but the truth is you can only assess breast density via a mammogram. In other words, firm breasts do not indicate breast density. If your doctor finds any suspicious tissue, they will take you through the steps of performing a breast biopsy.