Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in Georgia and accounts for 30 percent of all new cancers in women, according to a report from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Dr. Jane Meisel, a breast oncologist at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, said having a mammogram is often what gets women thinking about their breast health and helps get them into the health care system, which is an important part of getting the right treatment.
“It kinda takes a whole village to take care of a breast cancer patient,” she said. “We try to bring in people from all the different sub-specialties that we rely on to provide our patients the best possible care.”
Last year, about 63 percent of Georgia women aged 40 and older reported having a mammogram within the past two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women ages 45-54 get a mammogram once a year, and women ages 40-44 can start getting annual mammograms if they wish to do so.
“Mammograms are really not that good until you’re 40 years old,” Meisel said. “Some of the more aggressive breast cancers get diagnosed earlier than that … We see women as young as their late teens.”
It is not common for women in their 20s and 30s to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but Meisel said it does happen.
“The younger you are, the more aggressive the cancer tends to be,” she added. “So we just want to make sure that people realize that, if they notice a change in their breasts, they should be bringing that to medical attention.”
Overall, she thinks it is important that all women understand their breasts so they can notice any changes or abnormalities.
Last year, a study found a disparity in Atlanta between the mortality rates of white and black women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to the study, conducted by the Sinai Urban Health Institute and Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the mortality rate for white women with breast cancer has decreased to 20.2 percent since 2005, but it has increased to 44 percent for black women. In addition, Atlanta had one of the largest gaps compared to other major city in the United States.
“Learning about these health disparities, I think allows us to tackle them in a broader, public policy kind of way,” Meisel said.
She added that black women tend to be diagnosed with more aggressive types of breast cancers.
She said there are many reasons these disparities exist, but a big step in the right direction is increasing awareness and access to mammograms, especially on a state-wide level.
Dispelling Some Myths
There are many factors that can increase or decrease your risk for breast cancer. Some are preventable, and some are not.
“Buy in large, there’s nothing that anyone does to make it happen,” Meisel said.
She said she tries to dispel the myth that breast cancer was the patient’s fault and helps people focus on getting the best treatment instead.
“I think the Atlanta breast cancer scene is one where everyone really does seem dedicated and focused on taking care of the patients and making sure the patients and people get the best possible outcome,” Meisel said.
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