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Breast Cancer: A Little Knowledge May Suffice

June 30, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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How much do you really know about the symptoms of breast cancer? How much do most women, even women who faithfully appear for their regular screening mammograms, know about those symptoms?

Do people in the medical profession, who take everyday immersion in health care for granted, assume that their patients have a lot more knowledge than those patients actually possess?

What inspired all these annoying questions? A study published this week in the British Journal of Cancer. It found that a chat of just 10 minutes with a radiologic technologist, accompanied by a booklet, made a huge difference in a patient’s knowledge about breast cancer.

The study involved British women. The difference in the British and American health-care systems regarding mammography requires some explanation, helpfully provided by a Cancer Research UK news release. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) routinely invites women who are at high-risk ages to receive regular screening mammograms. The NHS now extends invitations to women ages 47 through 73, but at the time of the study women would receive their last invitation to a screening mammogram within the 67–70 age range.

After that final “invited” screening, usual practice has been to inform women, either orally or in writing, that they will no longer be invited for screening every three years but can continue to be screened on request. For this study, researchers tried adding a 10-minute talk from a radiographer about breast-cancer symptoms, along with the presentation of a booklet about the topic. This was the Promoting Early Presentation (PEP) program.

The researchers found that after two years, 21 percent of the women who had received the PEP talk were “breast cancer aware,” compared with 6 percent of those who had received the usual care.

Lindsay Forbes, MBBS, MD, of King’s College London was lead author of the study. She said:

This study shows that the PEP not only raises awareness in older women but also does it for a longer period of time than any other intervention of its kind. This is important because even in older women, it may take many years for breast cancer symptoms to develop.

Sara Hiom, director of health information for Cancer Research UK, said, “A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases with age — over 80 percent of cases occur in women over 50. So it’s vital for older women to be aware of breast cancer symptoms so they don’t delay seeing their doctor.”

And those symptoms would be? Hiom provided the following overview:

Anything that is unusual for your breasts, such as a lump, changes to the nipple like a rash or discharge, or dimpling of the skin.

Where breast cancer is concerned, even a relatively little knowledge may be enough to save a life.

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Intervention: A Comprehensive Review (free shipping and handling for a limited time)

(Keep checking our Facebook page, where we’ll try to keep you informed about CME discounts.)

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