Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Studies show that regular mammography, along with follow-up tests, can significantly reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer.

According to a breast cancer research report in 2018, mortality rates related to breast cancer declined by approximately 50%, compared to three decades ago. In fact, in 2018, there were over 27,000 fewer breast cancer deaths. This is largely due to increased screening and improved treatment options, as well as awareness that has led to improved family support.

Mammography is one of the best tools for the early detection of breast cancer. It is used to find breast cancer at its earliest stages before it causes any noticeable warning signs or symptoms. This is when the chances of surviving breast cancer are at their highest. 

Regular mammography, along with follow-up tests, can significantly reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer. The impact of early screening is most notable in women aged 50 and older. For healthy women without a family history of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends breast mammography every other year.

Early Screening Goes Beyond Mammograms

Screening for breast cancer goes beyond simply getting mammograms. Physicians and health advocates recommend that women perform their own monthly breast exams to feel for any potential changes in their breast tissue, including lumps.

It is also recommended that women receive a clinical breast exam at their regular medical check-ups. This exam is done by a trained healthcare provider who will carefully feely your breasts, underarm, and breast bone for any changes or abnormalities.

Women with a family history of breast cancer or those with a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer may benefit from a breast MRI. Breast MRIs can often detect changes in breast tissue that are not detected by a simple breast exam.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that specific women get yearly mammograms plus breast MRIs, including women with:

  • A BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • A first degree relative with a BRCA gene mutation
  • Radiation treatment to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30
  • Li-Fraumeni, Cowden/PTEN syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome
  • A PALB2, PTEN, or TP53 gene mutation
  • Greater than 20% risk of invasive breast cancer based on family history

Family Support Can Help Improve Outcomes

Approximately 43.5 million caregivers provided unpaid help to a family member or friend in the last year. This care can be invaluable to cancer patients as they deal with their new diagnosis and learn to manage their treatments.

Family support is an important factor for patients battling this disease and associated with improved outcomes, both physically and emotionally. According to a study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, family support can decrease the risk of breast cancer patients suffering from major depressive episodes.

Research continues to show that having a good support system during treatment can be extremely beneficial to cancer patients and can improve outcomes drastically. Caregivers can ensure that patients are compliant with medications and regularly attend doctor’s appointments and treatment sessions. They can ensure that they receive adequate nutrition and sleep and help them identify complications or issues when they arise.

If your friend or family member has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, there are numerous ways you can help, including:

  • Educate yourself on their disease and treatment options
  • Ask questions when you’re unsure
  • Inquire about how they’re feeling and how their treatment is going
  • Offer your support
  • Ask them how you can better support them
  • Keep checking in

Finding Support in Your Community

Sometimes breast cancer patients don’t have a supportive family network. They may not live close enough to family members, or they may be estranged from them. If that is the case, breast cancer patients can find invaluable support in their community.

First, turn to friends and be specific about the type of help you need. If you need someone to drive you to the doctor’s or bring over dinner, ask for that specifically. Friends sometimes want to help but are unsure of exactly what type of help to provide.

Connecting with fellow cancer survivors or patients is another way you can find support. There are numerous breast cancer support groups in your own community and even more located online. To find support groups, visit the Susan G. Komen or websites or ask your doctor for groups in your community.