Annual Screenings Critical in Saving Lives

October 17, 2016

Despite many recent advances in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, there is still a long road ahead to beat this deadly disease once and for all. Every year approximately 300,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 women will die from it. Breast cancer is the second leading cancer cause of death in women.

What we do know is that routine screening can and does save lives. Today, we have the ability to better screen women through 3-D mammography, which decreases false alarms, improves cancer detection and provides doctors with more detailed images. We join the National Comprehensive Cancer Network in recommending annual screening mammograms for average-risk women starting at age 40. Still, this is not a complete solution for women who are at high-risk for developing breast cancer due to family history or certain genetic mutations.

Guidelines from the American Cancer Society and National Comprehensive Cancer Network state that women who have greater than a 20 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer should also have annual breast MRI screenings in addition to annual screening mammograms because MRI technology is more sensitive in detecting certain cancers. Some higher-risk patients should also undergo genetic testing for growing panel of known mutations which are linked to increased breast cancer risk, including the well-known BRCA 1 and 2 mutations.

The first step toward better screening for high-risk women is finding out who they are. Today, 95 percent of BRCA carriers who have not developed cancer are unaware they have this gene mutation, and 99 percent of women who meet the criteria for annual breast MRI do not undergo this screening.

This is why Lahey Health breast centers are in the process of launching a free breast cancer risk assessment tool which will be offered to all women undergoing their annual screening mammogram. The risk assessment program will empower patients and providers to determine if additional screening would be beneficial in managing breast cancer risk. It is supported by certified geneticists who can assist with patient education and decision-making.

This risk assessment tool does not replace annual screening mammography or clinical and self-breast exams. In fact, 80 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any significant risk factors for the disease and have no family history of breast cancer. Still, it is a powerful new tool that can help women better understand their risk and manage their health along with their care team.

To learn more about this risk assessment tool, community members can hear a presentation by Dr. Rebecca Yang on Monday, Oct. 24 at the Boston Marriott Peabody, 8 Centennial Drive in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Empowering more women with risk-based breast MRI screening or genetic counseling could lead to earlier treatment and fewer breast cancer deaths. Catching breast cancer early saves lives and reduces health care costs. Patients who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have approximately a 98 percent five-year survival rate, while that survival rate drops to approximately 15 percent for patients who are diagnosed with cancer when it has spread outside the breast to other organs.

We are getting better at detecting and treating breast cancer. We encourage women, in partnership with their caregivers, to continue taking advantage of all the tools at their disposal.

Kelley M. Cornell, MD, Associate Medical Clinical Director at the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center
Cathleen Kim, MD, Section Chair of Breast Imaging for Lahey Hospital & Medical Center
Delphine Lui, MD, Associate Medical Imaging Director at the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center
Jean O’Brien, MD, Associate Medical Director and Breast Imaging Section Chief of the Beverly Hospital Breast Health Center
Rebecca Yang, MD, Director of the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and Lahey Medical Center, Peabody Comprehensive Breast Health Centers and the Beverly Hospital Breast Health Center



Dan Marra
Lahey Health Media Relations