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The statistics can tell any story you want them to say. However, as I continue to talk to and represent women diagnosed with breast cancer it seems that the statistics in this area are telling the true story. As I have practiced medical negligence law over the past 20-25 years I have observed that the women calling my office about potential misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis of breast cancer are getting younger and younger. It is no longer uncommon to get a call from a newly diagnosed caller in her mid 30s or early 40s. Here are some of the simplest facts as reported by the American Cancer Society.
One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer during their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society there will be over 200,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer each year. Breast Cancer is the second leading cause of death for women with cancer between the ages of 20-59. African-American women have an increased risk of getting breast cancer before the age of 40 and are more likely to die of breast cancer compared to other women of the same age group. Simply put, the statistics verify what I am seeing in my callers, that the risk for women before the age of 50 is real. There is a lot women can do to fight this disease before it ever becomes life threatening. Yet action needs to be taken before symptoms arise, and before celebrating a 40th or 50th birthday.
First, early on, ask your OBGYN or Family Practitioner to instruct you on how to do effective self breast examinations. Do not rely on your physician to check for breast lumps. Women at home can do it more often and with a better awareness of any changes in the condition of her breasts. Any mass or lump discovered needs to be followed with a needle biopsy. Ultrasound examinations can demostrate false negative findings based on poor imaging or interpretation error. For women who do NOT have a family history of breast cancer and are NOT at increased risk, the American Cancer Society recommends beginning screening mammograms at age 40. A screening mammogram is one which is ordered prior to having any symptoms such as the discovery of a lump.
While the American Cancer Society has not recommended early mammography for women at an increased risk, the cautious path would dictate earlier screening should you have any of the features of an increased risk of breast cancer during your lifetime compared to the average woman. Factors such as prior breast biopsies, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or a history of an eary first menstrual cycle or early pregnancy are important. Ask your physician to perform a simple "Gail Model Test" for you to evaluate your future risk of the disease. The Gail Model test was been developed by the National Adjuvant Breast Project in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute and is recognized as an effective tool. In fact, you can calculate your own risk on-line. A score of approximately 20% lifetime risk, based on the Gail Model test, will indicate that you are at high risk for breast cancer during your lifetime.
If you are at an increased risk, or high risk, you need to insure that your Physician is doing more. Women at high risk for breast cancer need to have breast exams more often, are recommended to get a mammogram and an MRI every year - regardless of your age, and early medication therapy such as Tomoxifen or surgical intervention may be warranted. Genetic testing may also be a valid election for any woman at any age who has a mother or sibling (first degree relative) that has already been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing is not any more invasive than a mammogram or simple biopsy, but may be a life saving exercise.
The bottom line is that very few women, if any, should come to an untimely death as a result of breast cancer. The medical community has researched and developed multiple modalities, more so than any other type of cancer, to diagnose an early stage of breast cancer and promote an excellent recovery and survival rate. However, it cannot be done without the first step. Women need to make themselves aware of these modalities of diagnosis, take the initiative to get tested, and follow through with the recommendations of the American Cancer Society and her physician. The initiative needs to start early as it is a young woman's disease to fight.
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