The Power of Screening: Mammography Has Saved up to 600,000 Lives

Two women hug at a breast cancer walk.
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While breast cancer care is always evolving, no other advancement has come close to saving as many lives as the mammogram.

Since 1990, research has shown that mammograms have saved between 384,000 and 614,500 lives. To put these staggering numbers in perspective, it’s more than double the population of the city of Orlando. It’s up to 125 lives saved every single day in 2018.

But only about half of women over 40 get regular mammograms. That means breast cancer is taking lives it wouldn’t if more women knew the value in getting a mammogram.

That also means we have an opportunity. It’s that hope that inspired AdventHealth radiologist Leena Kamat, MD to specialize in breast imaging. (To learn more about how Dr. Kamat and her colleagues are using 3D mammography to aid in early cancer detection, check out our post.)

“When I went through my training, it felt like the most rewarding path because you’re the first one to pick up a woman’s cancer and what you do can change her life,” Dr. Kamat said. “I think there’s something incredibly rewarding in that.”

But mammograms are only helpful when they’re used.

Why Is a Screening Mammogram So Crucial?

Many of us may have the idea that we should only go to the doctor when we’re sick. While there’s a certain sense to this, it’s not the right approach for cancer prevention.

This is because most types of cancer, including breast cancer, are less treatable by the time problems appear. The goal should be to find the cancer and start treatment before you notice anything wrong.

That’s where a screening mammogram comes in.

“Finding a tumor when it’s small is the goal of screening and it affords a person the best chances,” Dr. Kamat says.

If you’re curious about what will happen during your mammogram, check out our post on what to expect. And if you’re concerned about radiation, here’s a fact to put it in perspective: You are exposed to the same amount of radiation in one mammogram per year as you would if you traveled on a plane from Orlando to Los Angeles. (Air travel exposes passengers to small amounts of radiation because the atmosphere is thinner and less able to deflect radiation from space.)

Mammograms: A Life-Saving Record

The use of X-rays to scan breasts for tumors was first tried in the 1950s, but it took a few decades for them to become widely used. From 1975 to 1990, an American woman’s odds of getting breast cancer continued to inch up each year.

But since 1990, breast cancer death rates have fallen between 1.8 percent and 3.4 percent per year, according to the recent study. Each year, more and more women are getting mammograms and more deaths are being prevented. By 2018, mammograms were saving between 27,083 to 45,726 lives a year.

As the study’s lead author said in a press release, “Our study provides evidence of just how effective the combination of early detection and modern breast cancer treatment have been in averting breast cancer deaths.”

In other words, regular mammograms have been quietly saving tens of thousands of lives a year while other topics dominate the news. The study’s author warned that attention on the risks of mammography might be “downplaying the most important aspect of screening — that finding and treating breast cancer early saves women’s lives.”

When Should I Get a Mammogram?

For most women, we recommend beginning screening mammograms between the ages of 40 and 50 unless your doctor suggests otherwise.

We offer convenient, 30-minute mammogram appointments for just $30 in the month of October. And if you have insurance, it’s likely that 100 percent of the cost of a screening mammogram will be covered.

Mammograms are also available to uninsured and underserved women in our community through AdventHealth Foundation and other local organizations. To learn more about benefitting from AdventHealth Foundation’s Breast Cancer Care Fund, email the fund coordinator at [email protected].

Getting regular mammograms is beneficial to your body and mind, as you’ll know you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself from breast cancer.

Scheduling your mammogram online is fast and easy, and it could save your life.

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