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Breast cancer screenings should happen earlier, health experts say

© iStock - KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Eric Tegethoff

(Washington News Service) October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and health professionals say younger women are increasingly being diagnosed with the cancer. 

About one in eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime, but survival rates are high if the cancer is caught early. 

Dr. Monika Wells, an internal medicine specialist with Kaiser Permanente, said 50 is a well-known age for people to start getting screened for the cancer.

"If you sample individuals even amongst my patient population, they think of about 50 as being the time they need to start getting mammograms," said Wells. "But what we're doing is, we're wanting to move the needle on that and have those conversations earlier."

About one in eleven new breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women younger than 45. There are more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Wells said it might be a good idea for some women to start the screening process at age 40.

"If we can identify who we can screen earlier and find those early cases," said Wells, "we sort of have a potentially ten-year head start on treating cancer."

When breast cancer is caught at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Wells said that's another reason why screening women at a younger age is important.

"Early detection," said Wells, "when we find those cancers that are in their earlier stages, opens up a whole spectrum of treatment options that might not be as readily available or may be more complicated if it's a more advanced cancer."