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Early diagnosis of breast cancer

Each year, approximately 50,000 women die from breast cancer, the leading cause of death among women. As with many cancers, the early diagnosis of this disease significantly improves a woman's chance for survival. In fact, early diagnosis can lead to cure. Because obstetrician-gynecologists are in a favorable position to diagnose this disease, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has developed guidelines for early diagnosis.

All women should be taught the importance of, and how to properly conduct, self-examination of their breasts. Women should start self-examination of their breasts while in their 20's and should continue to do so for the rest of their lives. Further, a complete gynecologic examination should include visual inspection and palpation of a the breasts. Because the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, regular screening by mammography, a low-dose x-ray examination of the breasts, is recommended. Although some controversy exists concerning the age that mammography should start, ACOG recommends annual mammography beginning at age 50, unless certain risk factors exist, such as a family history of breast cancer. On the other hand, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute (as well as other medical organizations) recommends regular (either annual or bi-annual) mammography screening for women at age 40. Because screening mammography alone cannot rule out a malignancy, ACOG notes that a persistent, palpable breast mass requires additional evaluation, which should include diagnostic mammography, ultrasonography, aspiration, or biopsy.

Unfortunately, many women are the victims of medical malpractice because their physicians fail to diagnose breast cancer in a timely manner. In representing such medical malpractice victims, the lawyers at the Pittsburgh law firm of Rosen Louik & Perry have successfully proven that physicians were negligent when they ignored complaints of a breast lump, complaints of nipple change, and changes in the texture and/or color of a breast. Further, even when proper testing is ordered, radiologists all too often fail to properly interpret the films.

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Cancer Society, National Institute

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