There are numerous activities to promote breast cancer awareness.  My youngest daughter, Elaine, is a nursing student who also swims for the Saint Louis University Billikens.  During October, the entire team, men and women donned pink caps and shirts instead of their typical bright blue to promote awareness about breast cancer.  The team was unified on this one, and I have no doubt it made people stop and think.  Anything that makes people think about the early detection of breast cancer is a good thing.

This past week there has been a lot of media about breast cancer detection.  The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reaffirmed their guideline that women ages 50 to 74 should have breast cancer screenings every other year.  The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has similar guidelines.  The American Cancer Society (ACS) released new guidelines in October of 2015 for the early detection of breast cancer. These stirred a media frenzy in the fall.  The ACS recommended that women of average risk start annual mammography at age 45.

The release of each of these guidelines did raise breast cancer awareness just like all other breast cancer awareness activities.  They also raised confusion.  Unfortunately, the age and interval to start screening is not consistent across major organizations.  It is important to note that all of these guidelines state that these recommendations are for women of average risk.  Women with multiple risk factors, especially women with a family history of breast cancer, are instructed to discuss their risk with their healthcare provider and may benefit from screening starting at age 40 or other modifications to screening.  The lifetime risk for developing breast cancer for women of average risk is approximately 12%.  For women at 20% or higher, risk screening should be modified and these women might benefit from modified screening and possibly breast MRI.  Risk is best calculated by a healthcare professional with expertise in risk assessment but a quick assessment can be done with an online calculator from the National Cancer Institute.

The message is that all women are at risk for developing breast cancer.  One in eight women will develop breast cancer by age 85.  All women need to be screened for breast cancer.  All women need to know their individual risk for developing breast cancer and then need to develop a plan for the early detection of breast cancer after considering their personal risk and discussing it with their healthcare provider.  Breast cancer awareness is a good thing. It leads to the early detection of breast cancer and could possibly save lives.