October is breast cancer awareness month.
The statistics on breast cancer in the United States can be overwhelming. It is the second most common form of cancer among American women and there is a one in eight chance a woman will develop the disease in her lifetime.
Nationally, over 240,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while a June 2018 Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services report shows that nearly 800 Montana women are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 140 die annually.
But buried among the statistics are encouraging numbers that show the importance and effectiveness of regular screenings and early detection in survival rates.
“With how common breast cancer is, early detection is key,” said Dr. Le Min Lee, a medical oncologist at Billings Clinic.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the five-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer—the earliest forms of the disease—is near 100 percent, while those diagnosed with stage II breast cancer see a rate of about 93 percent.
The rate for stage III breast cancers is about 73 percent and those in stage IV that have spread to other parts of the body, called metastatic, have a five-year relative survival rate of around 22 percent. However, it is important to note that many of these cases can see success with proper treatment.
Dr. Lee said the majority of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage.
“That’s a good thing,” she said. “Early stage breast cancer can often be cured, and patients can go on to live healthy, happy lives.”
One of the most important tools in early breast cancer detection is a mammogram. While it cannot prevent or cure the disease, this simple diagnostic procedure is vital in catching it in the early stages, since many women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors and no family history of the disease.
The American College of Radiology recommends that women receive regular mammograms beginning at age 40.
Dr. Mariah White, a Billings Clinic radiologist who specializes in diagnostic and women’s imaging, said those at a higher risk—such as women with a family history or those with certain genetic indicators—may also consider getting screenings at a younger age at the recommendation of a physician.
She also recommends women start by talking to their care providers to help determine risk factors, along with regular annual mammograms.
“Once you get that first mammogram, you need to do it every year after,” White said. “You might get 10 negative results but if you get one positive result, that’s why we do it. Our goal is to detect breast cancer early and the best way to do that is to get your mammogram every year.”
The Billings Clinic Reger Center for Breast Health features tomosynthesis technology for mammography, which uses X-rays to provide a 3-dimensional view of the breast, making fine details more visible.
White recommends any woman who comes in for a mammogram should consider using the new 3-D technology, since it gives them and their care team the clearest picture and most detail.
“It’s the newest, best technology we have,” she said. “It improves our detection rate. It’s an added advantage at no significant increased risk.”
Billings Clinic offers complete breast diagnostic services in a private, comfortable environment. Billings Clinic radiologists use computer-aided detection (CAD) technology on mammograms. The Center is staffed by a dedicated, caring team of breast care specialists, including certified female technologists and board-certified radiologists.
For more information or to schedule a mammogram, call 406-238-2501 or 800-332-7156 or visit https://www.billingsclinic.com/services-specialties/breast-health.
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