From Knoxville News Sentinel

By Mitch Moore
If anyone doubts the role that early detection plays in fighting breast cancer, examining the correlation between tumor size and survival rates may help drive home the importance of regular screenings.

According to Dr. Sandra Hesser, of Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, noninvasive Stage 0 and Stage I growths measuring less than 2 centimeters can mean a five-year survival rate of 100 percent, while Stage II tumors measuring 2 to 5 centimeters, and which also have spread to the lymphatic system, translate to a five-year survival rate of 86 percent. Rates continue to decrease in correspondence to Stage III and Stage IV growths.

“The whole goal behind any screening is to catch the cancer early and to increase survival chances,” Hesser says.

With the advent of current screening technology, even tumors measuring less than a centimeter can be detected and cured with a high degree of success, says Dr. Brian Garber, of Premier Surgical Associates.

“Without screening, you can have a significant tumor without even knowing it,” Dr. Garber adds.

When taking a multipronged approach to early detection, women are advised to follow what is considered the recommended medical protocol – monthly breast self-exams complemented by annual mammography and clinical exams.

“We encourage women to become familiar with their breast tissue and to do a monthly self-exam,” says Hesser. “Even if it’s not the perfect exam, you’re becoming familiar with what’s normal for you.”

She adds, however, that because tumors can grow so slowly, doing a self-exam more often than once a month can actually be counterproductive, causing a woman to possibly miss subtle changes that may be occurring in the breast tissue.

Annual mammography and clinical exams by a physician are generally recommended for women starting at age 40, although women with higher risk factors, including a family history of breast cancer, should consider starting mammograms at age 30.

“Mammography is the mainstay means of detection,” notes Garber. “It is universally accessible, time-tested and still does an excellent job of finding lesions at a fairly small stage.”

In some cases – particularly in women with genetic abnormalities, a family history of breast cancer or dense breast tissue – MRI screenings might also be recommended, he adds.

Despite the impact that early detection can have on breast cancer survival rates, too many women still do not take advantage of any kind of regular screening practice.

“Many think, “Oh, that won’t be me’ or “No one in my family has ever had cancer,’ but it turns out that most women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history of it,” says Garber. “In rural areas, we often see an attitude of, ‘If I don’t ask, it won’t bother me.'”

Hesser notes that mammography participation actually has decreased in the last three to five years, in part because most post-menopausal women are coming off hormone replacement therapy and therefore not seeing their doctors as frequently.

“In some cases, it’s because a woman may have lost her insurance or her insurance isn’t as good as it was,” she says. “Still, mammography is one of the most important things a woman can do, because if she lives to age 85, a woman has a one-in-eight chance of getting breast cancer.”