Dr. Irene Dansby

Most people now recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month by its signature pink ribbon and pink theme. What many don’t know is that up to 80% of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients have no family history of breast cancer and no symptoms.

Breast cancer is that silent thing — until it’s not.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, held each year to promote screening mammograms and prevention of breast cancer, which affects one in eight women in the United States annually and 2.3 million women worldwide. The annual campaign seeks to increase awareness, educate people, and raise funds for breast cancer research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women overall, and it is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women. Men can get it, too. In the United States, about 240,000 women and 2,100 men are diagnosed each year. About 42,000 women and 500 men in our country die each year from breast cancer, and Black women have a higher rate of death from breast cancer than all other women.

Cancer is an unbiased disease — it doesn’t care how old you are, what risk factors you have or don’t have, how wealthy you are, or where you live. Everyone is a target. Fortunately, in the case of breast cancer, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of early detection. 

Early detection saves lives, and regular mammograms are one of the best ways to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that doctors use to look for early signs of cancer. Regular mammograms can identify breast cancer sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.

There’s some confusion about what age to begin getting regular screening mammograms and how often. The evidence is clear from the radiology literature that the maximum benefit comes if women start screening mammograms at the age of 40 and have one every year. The goal is to find cancers as early as possible — at either Stage Zero or Stage 1. Early diagnosis has high cure rates, and breast cancer, if caught early, is very treatable. Later stage cancer treatment is more challenging, may take longer, typically includes chemotherapy before and/or after surgery, and carries a worse long-term prognosis. 

The Community Memorial Breast Center was the first medical facility in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to be designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. The center is offering low-cost mammograms throughout the month of October to encourage uninsured and under-insured women to come in for a screening.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and how you can screen for it as a preventative measure. It’s never too late to start the habit of getting an annual mammogram. If you haven’t had your annual mammogram this year, or if you got out of the habit during the pandemic, get back into the habit and make an appointment today.

Dr. Irene Dansby

Irene Dansby, MD, is the Medical Director of the Community Memorial Breast Center.