Breast cancer remains a major concern for women of all ages, and while cure rates have improved tremendously, prevention is still the secret to beating this disease.
Women who have annual mammograms from age 40 to 75 and are diagnosed early can expect a recovery rate around 90 percent, says Dr. Barry Rosen, a breast cancer surgeon and oncologist for AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village.
The sticking point is that too few women understand the role that breast tissue plays in diagnosing cancer.
Breast tissue is composed of dense supportive tissue and lighter fatty tissues. According to the Mayo Clinic, an “A” density means the breast tissue is almost all fatty and has less of the dense supportive tissue; a “D” density is considered entirely dense tissue. Densities of “B” and “C” fall in between.
For women with A and B densities, finding a cancerous growth too small to be felt is feasible with a mammogram. However, when density falls into the C and D range, mammograms can miss small, cancerous growths.
“For women with C and D density, we now back up mammograms with supplementary imaging including ultrasound or MRI screening,” Rosen says.
At the same time, genetic testing is helping women not only to catch breast cancer sooner but to take preventive steps well in advance. A simple blood test can determine whether or not a patient has hereditary factors that may predispose them to developing breast cancer.
Patients who test positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may have mammograms annually and breast MRI screenings once a year, offset every six months. Rosen adds that other genetic mutations associated with for cancer can be monitored.
“A surprising three-fourths of diagnosed cases are environmentally based,” Rosen says. “But we don’t overlook the potential for heredity as a cause. And sadly, most women who are diagnosed were not screened or identified for hereditary causes.” ❚
AMITA Health maintains hospitals and clinics across the Chicago area, including in Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Elk Grove Village and Aurora. Learn more at amitahealth.org.