Early Detection of Breast Cancer Is Crucial

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CI, No. 3March, 2001

Jackelyn Frost, CSW

In recognition of the importance of early detection of breast cancer, Physician Volunteers for the Arts (PVA) is now providing free clinical breast exams and mammograms each month, to women ages 40-65. A mammogram is a safe, low dose x-ray picture of the soft tissue within the breast. A radiologist reads the pictures it produces to see if the tissue is normal or whether there is an abnormality that should be checked. If an abnormality is detected, a consultation with a physician can determine whether further testing is required. Often, the abnormality detected is not cancer.

Most mammograms show healthy normal breasts, and getting this result can bring peace of mind. But if a mammogram reveals an abnormality that turns out to be cancer, early detection may save your life. (A mammogram can detect breast cancer up to two years before it is large enough to be felt.) Early detection usually means that you will have better treatment choices and will experience fewer traumas to your body and your life. It is recommended that, after the age of 40, women get a mammogram once a year.

Despite the compelling arguments for having a mammogram, many women choose not to do so. One reason may be that they are frightened by the possibility of a diagnosis of cancer. But a mammogram is a simple and effective test and, detected early, breast cancer is survivable. What would be far more frightening would be to discover breast cancer too late to effectively treat it.

Some women may feel that, because they had a normal mammogram in the past, they can put off having another one for a while longer. Or they may share the misconception that, as you get older, you are less likely to get breast cancer. In fact, the risk of breast cancer increases with age, especially for women over 40. A mammogram taken when you were younger is not a reliable indication of your current health.


Statistically, one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some time in her lifetime. Women in their 20s account for only 0.3 percent of breast cancer cases, while about 77 percent of women with breast cancer are over age 50 at the time of their diagnosis. Another important statistic to be aware of is that more than 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease. Still, you should be aware of the factors that can affect a woman’s risk of breast cancer – including family genetics, age at the onset of menstruation, delayed childbirth, daily alcohol consumption, smoking and a diet high in polyunsaturated fat.

One reason women often cite for being reluctant to get a mammogram is that the process is painful. It is true that, to get an accurate image, each breast must be compressed. This can be uncomfortable for women with sensitive breasts. But since the actual test takes less than a minute this discomfort is brief, and it can be further minimized by scheduling the mammogram for the seventh to fourteenth day after your menstrual cycle.

If you have had cancer or have known risk factors for the disease, or if a friend or loved one has had cancer, fear of bad news may cause you to avoid having a mammogram. Much of that fear revolves around losing control, and being thrown into a health care system that can be overwhelming.

Physician Volunteers for the Arts (PVA) can help. An important part of its mission is to provide a support system of people you feel you can trust and rely upon. Should your mammogram results require you to seek additional medical advice or treatment, PVA will help you find the right doctor, and will be available to help you resolve problems and find answers.

If any of these issues hit home and you would like to discuss your concerns before scheduling a free mammogram – or if you are still not convinced that you should have one – call Physician Volunteers for the Arts at (212) 489-2020, ext. 140, and speak with Amanda.


  • An annual Women’s Health Fair is held each spring. The next one will be on Tuesday, March 13, at the Aurora, 475 West 57th Street in Manhattan. It will offer free mammograms, colorectal cancer screenings, and other services important to women in the entertainment industry. The fair is sponsored by PVA, New York-Presbyterian, The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, and BWAY (Better Wellness and You), an entertainment industry consortium.
  • PVA now offers free mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women ages 40-65 on the second Tuesday of each month. To pre-register for a free mammogram, call 1-800-564-6868.
  • Physician Volunteers for the Arts operates a free medical clinic for performing arts professionals at the Actors’ Fund’s Aurora Residence, 475 West 57th Street. Sponsored by the Actors’ Fund of America and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, PVA has volunteer physicians who offer a wide spectrum of specialized care in areas such as allergy, gastroenterology, gynecology, internal medicine, family practice, immunology, liver disease, podiatry and pulmonology (lung disease). There is also a physical therapist to help individuals rehabilitate after injuries. PVA’s mission is to serve the many individuals in the performing arts community who are uninsured or underinsured.

Information for this article was provided by the Physician Volunteer’s for the Arts program, as well as from “What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?” at