Prioritizing Breast Cancer Screenings
- Senator Amy Klobuchar was diagnosed with with stage 1A breast cancer in February 2021. Ever since she shared the news of her breast cancer battle, she’s been working to encourage others to schedule their mammograms.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer but earlier if they are at a higher risk. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
Klobuchar is the senior United States senator from Minnesota, and she’s been holding that seat since 2007. The mother of one was also a Democratic presidential hopeful up against President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.Read More
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I hope my story will remind others to schedule that doctor’s appointment. There is rarely a good time to go in for a routine health screening – but I encourage everyone to make the time. It just might save your life. pic.twitter.com/1DMtEiQw1G
— Senator Amy Klobuchar (@SenAmyKlobuchar) October 18, 2022
“During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I hope my story will remind others to schedule that doctor’s appointment,” she wrote in her caption. “There is rarely a good time to go in for a routine health screening – but I encourage everyone to make the time. It just might save your life.”
Amy Klobuchar’s Breast Cancer Journey
Amy Klobuchar was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2021. When she shared the news in September 2021, Klobuchar explained that doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, “found small white spots called calcifications during a routine mammogram.” After a follow-up biopsy, she was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer.
For treatment, she underwent a lumpectomy on her right breast followed by radiation treatment.
“After additional follow-up visits, it was determined in August that the treatment went well,” she wrote. “Of course this has been scary at times, since cancer is the word all of us fear, but at this point my doctors believe that my chances of developing cancer again are no greater than the average person.”
Klobuchar went on to say she did not need “chemotherapy or other extensive treatments” because her cancer was caught at an early stage. That’s why she wants others to make their health a priority and schedule their routine mammograms.
“There is rarely a good time to go in for a mammogram or routine health screening,” she wrote. “So many Americans are still juggling their children on their laps and their laptops on their desks. They are constantly balancing their families, their jobs, and their health.
“It’s easy to put off health screenings, just like I did. But I hope my experience is a reminder for everyone of the value of routine health checkups, exams, and follow-through.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
The Importance of Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.