COMMENTARY: Increase public awareness regarding breast cancer

As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program® of the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, I want to share the following information as we observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

We know so much more about breast cancer now than we did when Breast Cancer Awareness Month was established in 1985. Still, an estimated 268,600 women (and 2,670 men) in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed this year and 41,760 women (and 500 men) will die of the disease in 2019. In Texas alone, an estimated 18,750 women will be diagnosed and 2,980 will die of breast cancer.

Although Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings more attention to the disease in October, new information about the disease and screening options emerges yearround. I urge you to take a few minutes to learn about updates you might have missed earlier in the year.

Screening recommendations

This year the American College of Physicians announced new screening guidelines, recommending that women ages 50 to 74 at average risk get mammograms every other year and women ages 40 to 49 talk with their doctors about when to start. There has been a lot of controversy in recent years over breast cancer screening guidelines, but the Prevent Cancer Foundation® and many other health organizations still encourage women of average risk to begin annual screening at age 40 for the best chance of detecting cancer early, when successful treatment is more likely.

BRCA testing

BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can increase your risk for breast and several other types of cancer. The United States Preventive Services Task Force now gives a “B” recommendation for women with personal or family histories of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancers, or “an ancestry associated with breast cancer susceptibility” (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent), to receive familial risk assessments. A positive assessment should be followed by genetic counseling, which may result in a recommendation for genetic testing. Because private insurers are required to cover services with USPSTF “A” and “B” ratings, this “B” rating gives more women access to information about their cancer risk so they can better make decisions about preventive services.

New screening technology

New technology is expanding screening options, especially for women with dense breast tissue who may be at greater risk for breast cancer. (Dense breast tissue is also harder to examine with traditional mammography.) 3D mammography enables radiologists to view the breast from more angles, allowing for better detection. Researchers are also exploring the use of molecular breast imaging in combination with mammograms to better detect breast cancer, though this is not yet widely available. Liquid biopsies are currently used to monitor disease progression in metastatic breast cancer patients and may also be helpful in early detection and treatment.

As medical experts continue to explore ways to improve early detection and treatment for breast cancer, you can reduce your risk by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. Exercise at least 150 minutes a week, limit or avoid alcohol, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke. (If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.) To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/breast.

Lorena Saenz Gonzalez is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, DMcAllen. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society

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