Breast Cancer in Massachusetts: October is Awareness Month

Breast cancer in Massachusetts takes center stage in October, a month that is dedicated to raising awareness of the disease.

In Massachusetts, as in many places, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to unite, educate and support those affected by this disease.

Why Breast Cancer Awareness Month Matters

Breast Cancer Awareness Month serves as a reminder of this type of cancer has on individuals, families and communities.

It encourages early detection, treatment and support for those affected by this disease.

In Massachusetts, this is important because of the state’s high incidence, meaning number of new cases, of breast cancer diagnosed each year.

The state is committed to high-quality patient care and making research studies more accessible.

Breast Cancer in Massachusetts: The Numbers

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer remains the most common cancer among women in Massachusetts.

In 2021, an estimated 5880 new cases of female breast cancer were diagnosed in the state.

The good news is that, thanks to early detection, possibly finding cancer sooner in the body before a person even knows they have signs or symptoms, as well as better treatment options, survival rates have steadily improved over the years.

Screening: What You Need to Know

While hearing “You have cancer” is never simple, discovering someone’s cancer sooner through early detection methods may mean a better response to treatment at a less complicated or advanced stage.

There may be more favorable treatment options and procedures available to help the person.

But with changing guidelines on how and when to get checked for cancer, knowing what steps to take can feel like finding your way through a maze.

Breast Cancer in Massachusetts

What Are The Different Methods and Guidelines for Screening and Treatment?

1. Mammograms: The Gold Standard

Mammography is the most common and widely accepted method of breast cancer screening.

It involves taking X-ray images of breast tissue.

Here’s what you should know:

– Periodic screening: for women at average, or “most common” risk, periodic mammograms generally begin at age 40 and continue annually or every other year, depending on individual risk factors like your personal as well as family health histories and the current guidelines. 

– Early detection: The X-ray images from mammograms can show cancer in the body before symptoms appear. This means getting treated sooner and living longer.  

– Digital mammography: 2D digital mammography is the way to check for the presence of this disease in most individuals. However, 3D digital mammography is advanced and considered more beneficial for women with dense breast tissue.  

2. Clinical breast exams: hands-on evaluation

A clinical breast exam involves a health care provider looking at and feeling the breasts for lumps or changes in texture.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Frequency: recommended as part of a routine visit to your primary care provider or gynecologist, such as an annual physical exam.
  • Breast self-exams: While breast self-exams are no longer routinely recommended, some women still choose to feel what their own breasts normally feel like to be able to talk to their medical provider about differences over time… Any unusual changes should be reported immediately to a health care provider.

3. Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is sometimes used as a complementary, or additional, screening tool for women who may be more likely to develop this kind of cancer. 

Here’s what you should know:

High-risk factors: generally recommended for women with a strong family history of breast cancer or certain genetic mutations diagnosed in a biological first degree relative, meaning a blood-related parent, child or sibling.

Frequency: High-risk women may undergo an MRI in addition to a mammogram, often once a year.

4. Breast Ultrasound: Diagnostic Tool

Breast ultrasound is not a routine screening tool for this type of cancer.

However, it is commonly used for diagnostic purposes when a mammogram or clinical exam raises concerns.

Here’s what you should know:

Adjunctive testing: This refers to additional types of testing, such as ultrasound, which are used to better understand concerning findings on a mammogram or clinical breast exam by providing more information

Younger women: It may be recommended for younger women or those with dense breast tissue.

5. Personalized Screening Guidelines – Know Your Risk

Appropriate breast cancer screening guidelines may vary based on individual risk factors, such as family history, genetics and personal health history.

Here’s what you should know:

Talk to your medical provider – Discuss your risk factors with your health care provider to determine the best screening plan for you. 

High-risk screening: women at high risk may need earlier or more frequent screening tests and may benefit from additional testing such as breast MRI.

Informed decision making: stay informed and involved in your health care decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek second opinions from a different provider if necessary.

Breast cancer screening is a critical tool in the fight against breast cancer, but it is not one-size-fits-all.

The right screening strategy depends on your individual risk factors and should be discussed with your health care provider.

Remember, early detection can save lives, so make your breast health a priority and together we can navigate the maze of breast cancer screening.

Resources for Breast Cancer Patients and Families in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a wealth of resources to support breast cancer patients and their families.

These include:

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: one of the world’s leading cancer treatment and research centers, is based in Boston.

Its comprehensive breast cancer program offers cutting-edge treatments, clinical trials, and a multidisciplinary approach to care.

Susan G. Komen Massachusetts: This organization provides education, support and funding for breast cancer research.

They also host fundraising events throughout the year to promote awareness and support.

American Cancer Society (ACS): offers a variety of services including patient support, transportation assistance, and information on treatment options and clinical trials.

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition: This grassroots organization is dedicated to preventing the environmental causes of this type of cancer.

They advocate for breast cancer prevention policies and provide environmental health education.

Local support groups: Many local hospitals and cancer centers in Massachusetts offer support groups specifically for this type of cancer patients.

These groups provide a sense of community and emotional support during the cancer journey.

Join the Cause

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we encourage you to participate in local events, supporting breast cancer organizations or simply raising awareness.

Your contribution can make a significant difference in the lives of those affected by this disease.

Visit Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s table and learn more about their programs for this month commemorating the fight against this type of cancer.

Our sources:

The information contained on the My Health Fair website should not be construed as professional advice or medical recommendations.

Readers should direct any questions regarding their personal health care to licensed physicians or other appropriate health care professionals.