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Your Healthy Family: Catching breast cancer early is vital

Posted at 4:19 PM, Oct 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 17:00:50-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — As October is coming to a close, we're going to be focusing on several stories about breast cancer. We often hear about raising awareness, but chances are most people have some knowledge of breast cancer, and the importance of annual screenings and when they are recommended.

Dr. Olga Mengin, a board certified radiologist and the medical director of breast imaging for UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs, who is also fellowship trained in breast imaging, tells me it all begins with women doing their part.

“Patients aren't coming in for screening who should be coming in for screening, and it is heartbreaking. When you have a woman come in with a mass that we could have caught early, but by the time she comes in she has metastatic disease, it is absolutely heartbreaking. If we had caught that earlier, the outcome would be different.”

Nationally, the numbers of women following the current screening recommendations for breast cancer are pretty good. However, Dr. Mengin says in Colorado, we need to be doing better.

“Nationally, approximately 70% of women who are eligible for screening are getting screenings. In Colorado, although we don't have specific numbers, this rate is substantially lower. We have women who don't come every year. We also have women who only come in when they feel a lump, and by the time you can feel a cancer, it is much larger on a mammogram. We can find it as small as 3 millimeters on a mammogram; that’s close to an eighth of an inch.”

Dr. Mengin wants to make sure women understand that it’s a myth that they can skip being screened if they don’t have a family history of breast cancer.

“Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history. The ratio is about ¾ - so three out of every four women diagnosed with breast cancer will have no family history, so it is by far the majority. That is why we call breast cancer a spontaneous cancer. We would love to know what causes it, but in most cases it is not genetics and it is not a family history.”

Dr. Mengin says knowing the current recommendations when it comes to breast cancer screening is very important.

“The recommendation for most women is to start screening mammography at age 40, and to do it every year. If a patient has a known family history or has a known genetic risk factor, then we would want to potentially start screening before that. In terms of our general population with no family history or no genetic risk factors, we would like to start screening by age 40 and do it every year.”

Dr. Mengin had a lot of great information about breast cancer, so through the end of October and into early November, we'll be talking more about topics such as what women need to know about having dense breast tissue, 3-D mammography, the troubling death rates among women of color - and more.

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