Now more than ever, breast cancer screenings matter
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, now more than ever, this month is an important reminder to get screened to stay ahead of this disease. According to Coleen McKinstry, Associate Director of Development for the American Cancer Society, breast cancer screening rates dropped by an alarming 87% in spring 2020.
There are multiple factors that could have played a role in the decline of screenings. Dr. Linda Greer, a leading Phoenix radiologist specializing in breast imaging since 1996, shared the screening decline may be due to circulating misconceptions and fear. Individuals have heard horror stories or have ideas in their mind that the procedure is costly, time-consuming, and terrifying. Where, in reality, a mammogram can be relatively quick and painless. Another noted factor for misconception is the large amount of outdated messaging and data available when it comes to breast health, expressed Dr. Greer. “I think as a community of doctors and medical companies, we need to put out a strong message that it’s in your best interest to find it early so it gets treated early,” stated Dr. Greer during her interview.
The COVID-19 pandemic also made things much worse. Dr. Greer shared that many women were afraid to come in to get their screenings, while others lost their jobs and insurance and could not afford to see a doctor. Dr. Greer says that many places provide free screenings and support. “It’s findable, but you have to search for it and a lot of people just don’t know where to look.” McKinstry also added, “Access to health insurance and care is the biggest barrier of all. The American Cancer Society is diligently working to ensure the zip code in which you live doesn’t determine whether you survive cancer or die from it.”
According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, its awareness and advocacy are important to ensure that a diagnosis doesn’t turn into a death sentence. Early detection is key, according to Jennifer Lutjen, the Senior Director of Global Marketing for BD, a medical device company located in Tempe. When it comes to mammograms, minutes could save your life,” Lutjen says. “Just taking a little extra time for an early cancer screening could be the difference in the amount of treatment options available.”
Dr. Greer further explains that the technology took a huge leap in the early 2000s. “[My mother’s] experience back in the day was really strange. It took three weeks for them to bring the pathology results after her lymph node surgery to decide if she needed chemo or not,” she recalls. “Things like that are just devastating when you’re waiting for those results. On a personal level, it struck me how bad this system was.” But now, routine screenings are more
efficient and comfortable. Yet, women are still unaware of how frequently they should be getting mammograms, are afraid of the outcome, or are “too busy” for the process itself.
“The earlier you find it, the better,” Dr. Greer insists. “You could potentially have less treatment plans, less time off of work, less time away from your family, and better survival rates.” She also wants women to know that not all breast cancer is terrible. In fact, she says it can be very treatable. “As far as breast biopsies go, 80% of the time it’s benign. But the sooner it’s confirmed to be cancer, the better the options can be for the patients. Part of what BD does is we develop innovative technologies that help diagnosis cancer while always keeping the patient experience in mind. Our latest breast biopsy device, the BD EleVation™ Breast Biopsy System, can obtain multiple tissue samples in a matter of seconds, allowing for a fast procedure for the patient and help to facilitate an accurate diagnosis for the doctor,” Lutjen adds.
American Cancer Society is also heavily focused on spreading their Back to Screening initiative through committees and advertising campaigns. The initiative is to incentivize women to address and empower their health. As McKinstry says, “First and foremost, be proactive. Know your own body. If you know when something is not right with you, go to the doctor. Don’t wait. Be your own best advocate. Be diligent about getting your cancer screenings, your tests, your exams, and your physicals in a timely manner. All those things can help you stay healthy or get healthy and reduce your risk for cancer.”
Dr. Greer, who pursued a path in women’s health after her mother, aunt, and cousin all received breast cancer diagnoses, encourages women 40 years and over to get a mammogram every year. Friends and family can help encourage the women in their life to stay on top of their health through open and frank discussions. Dr. Greer recalls a group of patients who drove down from Prescott to get their annual screenings together and then went out for drinks afterward. “They all went together and kind of pushed each other to do it and then they made it into a super fun day,” she shares.
When routine screening rates bounce back, we hope that less later-stage cancers will be detected, Dr. Greer believes. “The faster we get back to normal, the more we will lessen the impact of last year.” Breast cancer care has progressed because of physicians like Dr. Greer, the American Cancer Society, and companies like BD working together. And, as we come out of the pandemic, we can all do our part to get back on track fighting cancer by urging our friends, family, and each other to get screened!
The BD EleVation™ Breast Biopsy System is indicated to obtain tissue samples from the breast or axillary lymph nodes for diagnostic analysis of breast abnormalities and is intended to provide breast tissue for histologic examination with partial or complete removal of the imaged abnormality. Its use is contraindicated for those patients where there is an increased risk of complications associated with percutaneous removal of tissue samples. Please consult product labels and inserts for complete indications, contraindications, hazards, warnings, precautions and directions for use.
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