Program seeks to improve Utah's 'abysmally low' mammogram rates

Program seeks to improve Utah's 'abysmally low' mammogram rates

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MURRAY — Utah has one of the worst mammography screening rates in the country, and one local physician says it's because most women don't see themselves getting breast cancer.

"Their most common reason is that they think they're not at risk," said Dr. Brett Parkinson, imaging director at Intermountain Medical Center's Janice Beesley Hartvigsen Breast Care Center.

Not all cancers are found in women with a family history of breast cancer, Parkinson said.

"Over 75 percent of the breast cancers we diagnose at the Intermountain Medical Center are in women that have no previous family history or other risk factors," he said. "So basically all women are at risk … so they should get their mammograms."

With its Thousand Points of Pink event, the center is hoping to inspire 1,000 women to either get their first mammogram before the end of the year or pick up a regular schedule after several years of not getting one.

"We want to get the community talking about it," Parkinson said. "Ask your mother, sister, daughter, friends and neighbors whether they've had their mammogram this year."

Screening rates, he said, "are abysmally low" in Utah, with around 67 percent of women having had a mammogram for breast cancer screening in the past two years.

When should women get mammograms?
  • Beginning at age 40, women should get annual screenings.
  • For women who carry a harmful breast cancer gene mutation (in either BRCA1 or BRCA2, screening should begin at age 25, and continue annually, with yearly mammography beginning at age 30.
  • In addition to regular mammograms, you should perform monthly self-breast examinations to check for lumps or changes.

Breast cancer is the most deadly type of cancer among women in the Beehive State, and it affects more than double the number of women than any other kind of cancer, including thyroid, colorectal and melanoma cancers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parkinson said breast cancer rates have remained pretty stable over the years, but early and regular screening would help find those cancers when they are at more treatable stages.

Women are encouraged, beginning at age 40, to be screened with mammography for breast cancer, according to recommendations from the American Cancer Society and other health care organizations. Screening is recommended to continue annually.

Recent debate brought on by internationally published studies questioned whether screening reduced mortality rates. Most physicians and organizations have settled on weighing the risks and benefits of screening.

The American Cancer Society states, "Finding breast cancer early can save a woman’s life. But finding something that has to be investigated — and turns out not to be fatal — can unnecessarily expose a woman to the risks of tests and treatments."

Parkinson, a leading breast cancer screening expert, has said risks are minimal in light of a potentially deadly cancer diagnosis.

For women who carry a harmful breast cancer gene mutation (in either BRCA1 or BRCA2), he said, screening should begin earlier than age 40, at age 25, and continue annually, with yearly mammography beginning at age 30.

"If any woman feels a lump, even between mammograms, it is important that she receives imaging," Parkinson said. "No matter what age you are, you should never ignore a lump."

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