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Diagnosing Breast Cancer

October 14, 2019 Pegalis Law Group

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It is important because breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, affecting about one in eight women. Treatment for breast cancer ranges from the removal of a minor lump to a double mastectomy, with additional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy also being options that may be used in a treatment plan. The extent of treatment, as well as its success, is largely dependent on how early the cancer is detected, and doctors use a variety of tests for detection.

Sometimes a lump is detected during a breast exam, either a self-exam or an exam performed by a doctor. Breast self-exams are advised for women over 21. Additional screenings are recommended for women at average risk over age 40, or women at high-risk over age 30.  A mammogram is the most common test, using low-dose radiation to provide high-quality images of breast tissue. When a screening mammogram detects an abnormality, the doctor typically requests a diagnostic mammogram for further evaluation. Ultrasounds are also used to analyze breast tissue and determine whether a lump in the breast is a solid mass or just a fluid-filled cyst. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to create images of the breast’s interior without using radiation. In order to definitively diagnose breast cancer, however, the doctor must perform a biopsy, removing a sample of breast cells from the suspicious area so that they can be analyzed in a laboratory.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, staging is done to establish the extent of the cancer.  Early detection is a major factor in successful treatment.  New York has taken a step in the right direction making early diagnosis more accessible.  The governor signed into law a piece of legislation, known as “Shannon’s Law.” This was named for Shannon Saturno, a Long Island teacher who died of breast cancer at 31. The law mandates that insurance companies cover annual mammograms for women ages 35 to 39.  Previously, companies were only required to cover these tests for women over 40.

Shannon’s Law is an important measure because 12,000 cases of breast cancer are detected each year in women under 40 years of age. Often, these cancers aren’t found until they are in later stages, and more than 1,000 women under 40 die each year from breast cancer. Of the young women diagnosed with breast cancer, almost 80 percent find the abnormality themselves. Under the new law, doctors have the opportunity for earlier screening, which may prevent missed diagnosis of this disease.

In some cases, misdiagnosis or late diagnosis of breast cancer has dire consequences because it delays necessary treatment. If you are concerned about a misdiagnosis or possible medical error, contact the Pegalis Law Group, LLC. For 47 years, we have advocated for people of all ages to help our clients financially and make healthcare safer for everyone. You can reach us today by calling (516) 684-2900.

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