Despite increased survival rates, Dr. Tom Schmidt, a breast surgeon with Witham Health Services at Anson, said it is still imperative to get a breast cancer screening.
“Breast cancer is extremely common,” Schmidt said. “This year some 268,000 new cases of invasive cancer and 62,000 of non-invasive cancer will be diagnosed.”
Breast cancer deaths have dropped 40 percent in the last 25 years, Schmidt said. Yet the incidents are increasing.
“While we’re making some strides in terms of survival, it’s still a battle that needs to be fought,” Schmidt, who has been practicing for 30 years, said. “The number of breast cancer deaths are high – 41,000 this year – and more than any other cancer besides lung.”
While Schmidt said things are better, routine mammographies and early detection are the key to decreasing death rates. So when should women start getting a mammogram?
“If you would Google this, it will drive you crazy,” Schmidt said. “There’s like three sets of guidelines and all sorts of different organizations that say this or that.”
Schmidt simplifies the process by splitting women into “usual risk” and “high risk.”
“Women with usual risk should begin mammography at the age of 40,” he said. “I think women with increased risk should talk with their doctor about individualized screening programs.”
Increased risk are women with a mother or sister who had breast cancer, a person with an abnormal pathology report or a person who is a gene carrier. All of which begins with the family physician.
Women should get breast imaging or a mammography once a year. Schmidt is also a believer in self-examination.
“I think it’s really important for a younger woman with a dense breast to do breast self-exam,” he said. “I think self-exams are a good thing.”
Schmidt said there have been several new medicines introduced, such as Herceptin to treat HER2 breast cancer. However, the best developments for treatment are early detection with improved imaging, and the evolution multi-disciplinary care.
“The idea of doctors working together in teams, collaboratively, delivers a higher quality of care,” Schmidt said. “So the breast surgeon, the medical oncologist, the radiation oncologist, along with radiologists and plastic surgeons, working together … in teams.”
Schmidt said the statistic that one in eight women will develop breast cancer is misleading because seven women out of eight won’t get breast cancer, but science can’t predict who will get it. Most women with breast cancer don’t have risk factors or a family history, so just the awareness that they are still at risk, is important, he said.
“If you can’t get Mrs. Jones in Boone County to get a mammogram, then we kind of lost what we need to do,” Schmidt said. “You can’t do anything without awareness.”