Doctors: Yearly mammograms save lives for women 40+

Mammograms can detect potentially curable breast cancer


The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 200,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Some 39,000 of those women will die from breast cancer.

While breast cancer can be deadly, it can also be cured if it's caught in the earliest stages.

Deirdre Poole knows a lot about breast cancer. She is a longtime volunteer for the San Antonio nonprofit group WINGS, or Women Involved in Nurturing, Giving and Sharing.

WINGS provides free treatment and lifetime follow-up care for women with breast cancer who are uninsured or underinsured.

"Just being able to see the patients being here -- because of WINGS -- makes all of our efforts worth it. The WINGS patients are still around because of WINGS," Poole said.

Although Poole is passionate about the cause, and is surrounded by women with breast cancer, at the age of 45, she has never had a mammogram.

"It's just not been something that's been on the forefront of my mind. I know I see it everyday, but I just don't think about in terms of myself." Poole said.

Unfortunately, Poole's story is not unique. 

Oncologists at the START Cancer Center in San Antonio say far too many women have advanced breast cancer because they skipped their mammogram.

"The power of a mammogram is it picks up early breast cancers that you can't feel in a breast exam," Oncologist Dr. Lisa Fichtel said.            

Fichtel says when breast cancer is caught early, it can be cured. She says that is not the case when it's found in the most advanced stages.  

"When we find cancer in an advanced stage, we can control it, and women will survive and do better for many years, but we can't usually cure them. So the reason to get a mammogram is so we find a curable breast cancer," she said.

There are many reasons, or excuses, why many women do not get their annual mammogram, she said. One of the biggest reasons is many women believe if they don't have a family history they are not at risk.

Fichtel says that is not true.

"Only five percent of breast cancers diagnosed have an identifiable genetic risk factor. So almost all women who have breast cancer do not have a family history," Fichtel said.

Another reason is anxiety. But women shouldn't fear having cancer. They should fear having cancer and not knowing it.   

"If you have a mammogram that actually picks up something, then you are a success story," Fichtel said. "Mammograms pick up early breast cancers that we can cure."

The message is clear for Poole and all women: Starting at age 40, there is no such thing as a good excuse to skip your yearly mammogram.

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