Slowly but surely, the national awareness about breast cancer has increased to the point that the public realizes that it is no longer a rogue disease that strikes only once in a great while.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and while the national discussion has gotten better, there is still much to do in order to bring attention to a disease that is one of the biggest killers of American women.
The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. A clinical breast exam should be part of a periodic health exam about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older.
While this is well and good, Star Valley in particular has some items in this fight that they can work on specifically.
“There is still some confusion in women’s minds that if they go and get their mammogram that that’s all they need to do,” said Dr. Martha Hageman of Independent Family Practices and Star Valley Medical Center. “They still need to see a professional for a clinical breast exam. While a mammogram is an absolute vital link to discovering breast cancer, each cancer can be different and it may not show up on a mammogram which is why a clinical breast exam is so important.”
Dr. Hageman went on to say that she feels that the ability for women to speak with a professional about this issue is of the utmost importance in Star Valley.
“Getting a clinical breast exam is an ongoing issue that hopefully through education that we’re calling women’s attention to the fact that a mammogram is important but it’s not enough,” she added. “Also when they come in, they have a chance to visit with their doctor so that they can discuss risk factors which are individual specific. We can talk about personal history and family history and perhaps some things can be changed or modified. For example, personal hormonal replacement therapy after menopause is something that would be discussed. Some women need this ongoing therapy and proper dosing in this regard is important, this is just one thing that can be discussed.”
Dr. Hageman went on to state that there are many tools to not only detect breast cancer but to perhaps even prevent it.
“Raloxifene sounds an awful lot like Tamoxifen which is a medicine that is used to treat breast cancer,” she continued. “These two medicines are sisters if you will and Ralolxifene is used to treat Osteoporosis with a side effect that it can help some women prevent invasive breast cancer.”
One item that has perhaps been a barrier for detection is the embarrassment or fear of the procedures themselves.
“The technology has come a long way so it’s a much more sensitive and specific test,” Hageman concluded. “It’s not a painful procedure it’s a quick procedure. As far as the embarrassment factor, breasts are another part of the human body and exams are a routine procedure from the provider’s standpoint.”
The discussion concluded with the fact that the potential life-saving information that comes out of an exam far outweighs any momentary embarrassment.
The most recent data from the Wyoming Cancer Surveillance Registry showed that 309 Wyoming women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2007 with 64 deaths.
According to the Wyoming Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, Wyoming’s mammogram rate of 67.2 percent among women 40 and older has been consistently below the national median of 76 percent.
Over 180,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2008, with over 40,000 deaths.