A Mammogram Could Save Your Life

You could be one mammogram away from your own cure. But half of San Diegans might not find out until it’s too late.

Laura Farmer Sherman, Executive Director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, San Diego

When caught in its earliest stages – usually by a mammogram – breast cancer has a survival rate of 98%.  But according to the Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Facts and Figures of 2012, nearly half of eligible women in San Diego County (49.2 percent) aren’t taking that life-saving step.

I was one of them.  At 42, I was working at Sempra Energy and had great health insurance.  I believed I had everything but the time it took to get a mammogram.  Then, I found a golf-ball sized lump in my left breast.  Quickly, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, had a mastectomy, followed by 8 chemotherapy treatments and three months of radiation.  I am lucky. I’m here to warn others.

Whatever your reason might be for not getting a mammogram; I am pleading with you to think of the alternative.

All women are at risk for breast cancer. It knows no boundaries, whether it be age, gender, socio-economic status or geographic location. Surprisingly and contrary to popular what I believed to be true, most women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S have no family history of the disease.  And unfortunately, we still do not know what exactly causes breast cancer to develop in a certain person at a certain time.

Research estimates that regular screenings with mammography have resulted in 30% fewer deaths from breast cancer.  However, mammography is not perfect. It can sometimes miss tumors or identify tumors that are not cancerous, particularly in women with dense breasts or who are at high risk for developing breast cancer.  Komen is committed to finding better, more sensitive methods for detecting and identifying breast cancer earlier.  While they are not perfect, right now mammography is the most effective way to catch breast cancer early.

The reason doctors recommend getting a yearly mammogram once you are over 40 is so they are able to see even the smallest changes that may be hard to see, but the images can be compared from year to year to see if there have been any changes. Yes, mammograms are very accurate, but they are not perfect. Sometimes, they can miss cancer. That is why you also receive a clinical breast exam (CBE) before you receive a mammogram.  . A CBE is a physical exam done by a health care provider to check the look and feel of the breasts and underarms for any changes (such as lumps). Women should get a CBE at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40. It is also important to know how your breasts normally look and feel. If you notice any change, see your doctor.

In the U.S., one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes and one woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes. With $1.4 million at work locally, Komen San Diego continues to be the county’s only breast cancer organization committed to providing services for every step of the breast cancer journey, including providing mammograms and breast screenings to the women of San Diego. We are here to help the women and even men get the help they need, whether they have health insurance or not.

Since its inception in 1995, Komen San Diego has raised more than $11.9 million to fund local non-profits who provide everything from free diagnostic mammograms and surgeries to meal delivery, child care and temporary financial aid. Seventy-five percent of every dollar raised in San Diego stays right here in San Diego County to fund free diagnostic mammograms, treatment and services for uninsured and underinsured women and their families. The remaining 25 percent funds international breast cancer research.