East Tennessee's Mercy Health Partners sets the record straight with what they say are the correct guidelines to follow for breast cancer screening.
"If we can find it early, we can almost, almost always cure you from breast cancer. It's not something women should be dying from," said Mercy cancer advocate, Crystal Dugger.
Mercy follows breast cancer screening guidelines set by the American Cancer Society. Those suggest annual doctor's check-ups and mammograms for all women age 40 and older. They also recommend women having a base-line mammogram at age 35, and for women to perform monthly self-exams at home.
This conflicts with a controversial 2009 study from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, made of non-Federal experts, that suggests women need mammograms every two years between the ages of 50-74. The study also discourages self-exams, and suggests mammograms done before age 50 should be performed based on individual risk factors. Many hospitals and cancer centers in the United States dispute these recommendations, in part, because the task force is made of medical professionals who work for primary care providers.
Dugger said women who may be in high risk categories, should have annual mammograms, and breast MRI's. Women who might be high risk include, "Having a mother or daughter with breast cancer. Having your first menstrual cycle before age 12. Not having kids or having your first child after age 30," said Dugger.
Knoxville resident, Debra Mauldin, 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May, 2009. She said pain in her shoulder caused her to discover a lump in her chest. Even though she said she didn't perform regular self-exams, and hadn't had a mammogram before she was diagnosed, she advocates early detection.
"The diagnosis came as a curve-ball, out of nowhere. I was only 39. I was scheduled to have my mammogram that year," said Mauldin.
Mauldin said she's been cancer-free for 10 months. She says she underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy, had a bi-lateral mastectomy, and 30 rounds of radiation. That care, she said, was tough, but also a blessing.
"It taught me to rely on the three most important things in life, which are faith, and family, and friends," said Mauldin.
Dugger said according to the American Cancer Society breast cancer is the most common type of the disease, apart from skin cancer which is diagnosed most often in women. Nearly 200,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
"We have to compare your breast to your breast every year, and watch for changes," said Dugger.
For more information on Mercy Hospital or to vote for them as a part of the Pepsi Refresh website, visit the Mercy Cancer Center page of the Pepsi Refresh Project.