Finding breast cancer early through screening major tool for beating disease

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in the United States. Dr. Srinath Sundararajan, an oncologist and hematologist with Texas Oncology-Katy, says early detection saves lives and that screening is important, even during the pandemic.

“Delaying cancer screenings will lead to detecting cancer at a later stage, and definitely that leads to more aggressive disease, more lengthy treatment and an increased healthcare cost,” Sundararajan said. “Cancer when identified early, there is a better chance of it being a curable cancer and better chance of having less intensive treatment. Screening cancer and finding it early is the single most effective way of improving cancer survival rates.”

He explained that since the 1980s, advances in breast cancer treatments have improved mortality rates, but screening has played a major role because it allows patients to seek treatment earlier in the disease.


While Sundararajan said mammograms are the main breast cancer detection tool, women talking with their health care providers about how to do a proper self-breast exam can enhance their breast health awareness and act as another tool. He said they should look for unusual changes in their breasts, including lumps, changes in the contour of the nipple, skin color changes, puckering of the skin or a new nipple discharge that occurs without apparent reason. Women should seek immediate medical attention with their health care provider if any of these symptoms occur.

While the age that a woman should get her first mammogram depends on several factors such as family history, Sundararajan explained that a woman with average risk should have a discussion with her doctor when she is between 40 and 50 years old. He said the frequency for mammograms will vary based on the results of that first one. Women should certainly have mammograms from age 50 to age 75, Sundararajan said.

The pandemic has had a large impact on cancer. A study showed that diagnoses of breast, cervical and colon cancer were down about 90 percent at one point. Sundararajan said the numbers have improved but are still down overall by about 30 percent since before COVID-19.

“It doesn’t mean that cancer was not happening or that new cancer was not occurring during those times,” he said. “Those are all missed diagnoses, which would probably impact them later in the future. Once they’re diagnosed, they might be at a later stage.”

Sundararajan explained that 90 to 95 percent of patients whose breast cancer is detected early respond well to treatment and are still living five years later. Those survival rates decrease when the cancer is found later.

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