The Importance of Early Detection in Breast Cancer Screenings

September 29, 2022 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in women, affecting one in every eight women in the United States. Breast cancer generally has no symptoms in the early stages, which highlights the importance of screening tools such as MRIs and mammograms to catch the disease before it can progress. When breast cancer is found early, patients have more treatment options and better chances for survival, including less extensive surgery and the option to forgo chemotherapy. The five-year relative survival rate is 99 percent for breast cancer when it is detected early in the localized stage. Although it’s less common, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2022, 2,710 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. men and about 530 men will die from the disease.

 To learn more about how patient engagement efforts can aid in the early  detection of breast cancer, Stericycle’sHealth Awareness Campaign Playbook  offers tips on effective communication strategies for providers.

Providers play a key role in educating patients who may be at a higher risk of breast cancer about the importance of keeping up with regular screenings for potential early detection. As the risk increases with age, healthcare experts recommend women over 40 perform regular breast self-exams, seek regular clinical exams, and receive annual mammogram screenings.

Improving Early Detection to Increase Breast Cancer Survival Rates

Although many doctors discuss breast cancer in terms of five-year survival rates, cancer can recur more than five years after diagnosis, especially estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. A recent Danish study tracked 20,315 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer who had not experienced a recurrence in 10 years post treatment and found 1,234 recurrences happened 10 to 12 years after diagnosis. The study discovered the factors linked to a greater risk of late recurrence included more positive lymph nodes, larger tumors, being younger at time of diagnosis, and having a lumpectomy versus mastectomy. Patients with these risk factors may need extended surveillance, more aggressive treatments or continued hormonal therapies to prevent recurrence. Even after diagnosis and treatment, women are encouraged to continue with regular screenings.

Since 2007, the American Cancer Society has recommended MRI screenings for women at higher risk of breast cancer starting at age 30, including those with the presence of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations, family history, previous chest radiation therapy or dense breast tissue. Adding an MRI to supplement mammograms can improve early detection. Currently, MRI screenings are under-utilized by women with a high lifetime risk of breast cancer, but overutilized by those who are not at high risk.

Healthcare Providers’ Role in Patient Education on Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Mammograms and other screening are widely available, but some women may face barriers to scheduling these tests, such as concerns over cost, what type of screening is covered by insurance and not knowing where to make an appointment. Women under 40 may need a referral from their doctor to schedule a screening mammogram, but older patients likely won’t need this. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers a national mammography program with partner hospitals across the country for women who qualify.

Healthcare providers play a crucial role in ensuring patients stay current with recommended screenings. Due to the link between family history and breast cancer risk, doctors should keep patient records current and note cancer diagnoses of family members. In addition, providers can utilize online patient engagement tools to remind women when they are due for an annual mammogram, so they don’t lapse in this critical preventative screening.

Learn more about how patient engagement efforts can aid in the early detection of breast cancer. Download the Health Awareness Campaign Playbook.

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