Recommendations for monthly breast exams are changing

The practice of monthly self breast exams is being replaced by an effort for women to remain aware of any changes in their breast tissue, said Intermountain Health Care OBGYN Allison Mencer.

If you know two Utah women over 40, chances are good one of them hasn’t gotten a mammogram in the last two years.

According to research reported by the Utah Women and Leadership Project in March of 2017, 38 percent of Utah women over 40 — who are seen as representing the high-risk category for breast cancer — are not receiving the recommended number of screenings.

Such numbers are disconcerting, given the fact that breast cancer is the most common type and second most deadly cancer in women, said Dr. Jose Tamayo, a radiologist specializing in breast exams at the Ogden Regional Women’s Wellness Center.

Local Intermountain Health Care OB/GYN Dr. Allison Mencer said one in eight women —12 percent — will contract breast cancer at some point.

It’s a statistic the Utah Women and Leadership Project is trying to change.

Because October is breast cancer awareness month, it offers an opportunity for people to encourage women they know to get mammograms.

“It is vitally important to offer breast cancer screenings and to continue exams,” Tamayo said.

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Screening procedures are not expensive, Tamayo said. “With the advent of cost-cutting measures, we have increased care without increasing costs.”

The study used by the Utah Women in Leadership Project was reported in the Journal of Women’s Health in 2013. It finds Utah to be among the five lowest states in the nation for mammography screening rates.

However, Tamayo said he’s seen other studies that rate Utah 49th.

The statistics don’t make sense, Tamayo said, given that mortality rates from breast cancer have gone down by 30 percent since screening mammograms began.

Mencer said she understands why women might avoid mammograms — because they can be both painful and embarrassing.

Every day of her practice, Mencer said, she spends time easing the anxiety women have about getting mammograms.

“Breast cancer screening produces anxiety for almost all women,” Mencer said. “Don’t be afraid to discuss this with your provider. We can take away some of your concerns.”

Anxiety is normal. “There is some discomfort in the procedure,” Mencer said.

One survey asked patients if they would forgo future mammograms because of the associated pain and discomfort. According to Mencer, a small number said they would.

But Tamayo pointed to new, less-invasive procedures to treat breast cancer, especially less-aggressive forms.

The Ogden Regional Medical Center Women’s Wellness Center is the only center in Utah offering Cryoablation, a freezing procedure that targets cancer cells, he said.

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“It’s a wonderful alternative for cancer unlikely to spread,” Tamayo said.

So far, Tamayo has completed nine of the procedures and all appear to have been successful.

No matter how cancer is treated, it is important for women to receive care that could save their lives, says the Utah Women and Leadership Project report.

“Recognize your body and what your body looks like and feels like,” she said. “Notice any changes — if there is pain or a mass or nipple discharge or redness.”

Decisions about how often a mammogram is needed are best made in consultation between patients and providers, Mencer said. 

You can reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.  

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