HealthView column: Garfield County women fall below statewide average for mammograms
Here at Women’s Health at Valley View, I talk to a lot of women regarding their breast health and risk for breast cancer. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. All women are at risk of getting breast cancer. In Garfield County, the percentage of women ages 40 and older who report having had a mammogram within the past two years is 48 percent.* Compare that to the statewide average of 61 percent, and it’s clear that more education and outreach to our community is needed.
Now that Breast Cancer Awareness Month has wrapped up, it’s a great opportunity to impart some of the information I share with my patients every day.
Know your risks: The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer are, 1) being a woman, and, 2) getting older. Find out about your family health history and talk to your doctor about your personal risk of breast cancer.
Risk factors are just that: They do not cause breast cancer, but they do increase the chances that you may get it. Some risk factors you cannot change, such as getting older, genetic mutations, reproductive and family history. There are many risk factors you can change though, including being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and minimizing your alcohol intake.
Get screened: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammography is currently the best screening tool we have for finding breast cancer early. Mammograms have the ability to find breast cancers when they are small and your chance for survival is highest.
Women are told a lot of different information about when they should start mammography. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the American College of Radiology, says women should start having regular mammograms at age 40. This ends up being a very individual choice and one that I discuss in a shared decision-making process with my patients. The risks associated with screening include false positive (or false negative) test results, and overdiagnosis/overtreatment. On the other hand, the benefit of screening is finding the cancer earlier, when it’s easier to treat. I do recommend to my patients to have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20. It’s also beneficial to learn how your breasts look and feel naturally to know if any changes start to occur.
Lifestyle. Lifestyle. Lifestyle: It bears repeating three times. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and limiting your alcohol intake go a long way in reducing the risk factors associated with breast cancer. In fact, those things go a long way in reducing all sorts of diseases. It sounds simple, but we all know how difficult it can be to maintain. Think of it as a gift that your future self will thank you for.
Thanks to substantial support for breast cancer awareness, including funding for research, breast cancer survival rates are increasing and the number of deaths associated with breast cancer are declining. This is all great news, but there remains much work to be done.
*Statistics from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2012 and 2014 (current data not yet available).
Dr. Brooke Halliwell is a physician at Women’s Health and a member of the breast health team at Valley View. For more information on Women’s Health, call 970-945-2238.