A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School has found that among women who have been treated for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), regular mammogram followups decline over time. This is in spite of the women’s higher-than-average risk for recurrence of breast cancer. Dr. Larissa Nekhlyudov and colleagues followed more than 3,000 women for a median of 4.8 years. The women all had a diagnosis of DCIS and were treated with breast conserving surgery.
About 20% of women with DCIS have a recurrence within 5 years, and their risk of contralateral breast cancer is 2 – 4 times higher. Because of their higher risk, women are generally recommended to have annual surveillance mammograms. The Harvard study, which have been published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (J Clin Oncol 2009; 27), found that adherence to annual mammograms declined every year after treatment for DCIS.
I find this a fairly disturbing study. We are all responsible for ourselves; no one can force us to go for followup. Our doctors can give us all the right information and make good recommendations, but ultimately, it’s up to us. It can be scary to go for followup scans – we know all too well that sometimes bad results are had. We would like to leave cancer and the fear & worry behind. But our reality is that we are at a higher risk for future cancers. Ignoring that won’t make it go away. And our best chances for beating a recurrence is to find it early. So, please, don’t be one of the dropouts; follow your doctor’s advice and go for your yearly mammogram. Might it be scary? Yes. But if you don’t get the scan, do you really not ever think about it?