CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In an effort to help more women detect breast cancer earlier, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set new guidelines for mammogram facilities and physicians.
It's required that mammogram providers notify women if they have dense breast tissue. Researchers say about half of women have dense breast tissue and many of them don't even know it. Doctors say having dense breast tissue increases the risk of breast cancer. It's commonly found on mammograms, especially in younger women.
That's what happened to Missie Trejo when she found out she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2018.
"I didn't have the typical symptoms, but there are so many," Trejo said. "I noticed a rash and other issues and when I went to the doctor, they would do an exam and tell me that I had a lot of dense tissue. But only when it got to the point that I needed a second opinion, I got my mammogram and that's when I found out I had cancer."
Medical experts encourage women to start getting regular mammograms starting at age 50, or even earlier depending on additional risk factors.
Some doctors say the FDA's guidelines is a step in the right direction as in some cases, breast cancers are not seen on the mammogram because they are hidden by breast density.
"Breast cancer is not just an older woman thing. You need to be checking yourself all the time, no matter your age. But more importantly, I don't think people know how to give themselves a breast exam. That's why we need to educate women on taking better care of themselves," Trejo said.
Mammogram providers will be required to implement the new standards within 18 months, according to the FDA.
Thirty-eight states already require providers to give women information about breast density after a mammogram, but not all of them require providers to notify a woman if she herself has dense breasts.
DenseBreast-info, a website that educates the public about dense breasts, said women can't detect the condition on their own because it has nothing to do with the way your breasts look or feel. It is the tissue composition of the breast. The only way to tell whether you have dense breasts is via a mammogram.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
"There's no cure for cancer," Trejo said. "So, I want people to know that if they go early and get that detection, it can help them to live longer and tackle the cancer earlier."
If you are looking for a location that offers annual breast exams, groups like First Friday has partnered with facilities like Radiology Associates to offer free mammograms.
Just like the name, the non-profit group encourages women to do their own self exams every first Friday of the month as a reminder.
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