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Doctor encourages mammograms after screenings drop during pandemic

Breast cancer makes up roughly 30% of cancer cases among women, but the number of women getting screened dropped dramatically during the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it's a perfect time to remind people about the importance of regular cancer screenings — especially because many women did not get a mammogram during the pandemic. 

Screening rates have come back up but not enough, according to medical experts. 

One thing that's certain about breast cancer is that catching it early makes it a lot easier to treat and save lives. 

“Breast cancer screening caught early definitely improves outcomes: less time in the hospital, less cost, less medications and more living and thriving,” said Dr. Shelia Jhansale, primary care physician lead at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

Breast cancer makes up roughly 30% of cancer cases among women. And during the pandemic, screening rates dropped by as much as 87%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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At Kaiser Permanente Northwest, screening rates have rebounded, but they're still down 30% from pre-pandemic levels, according to Dr. Jhansale. 

“It's safe to come in for breast cancer screening, especially those women age 40 to 75; let's get back into it because we can actually make a bigger difference treating you and successfully treating you if you're found to have breast cancer," she said. 

Dr. Jhansale said along with performing regular breast self-exams, annual mammograms are key. She knows this firsthand: her mother developed breast cancer, but a mammogram caught it early.

“She had a lumpectomy and radiation treatments, and she is thriving well at the age of 75 and doing quite well… I'm glad she's still here with me and I owe it to the mammograms.” 

Dr. Jhansale also said the risk of breast cancer is reduced with regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol use and not smoking.

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