It is October in America, and one color dominates. Rather than autumn leaf gold or gridiron green, unlikely pink has become October's color. Our community, like all others in America, proudly displays its commitment to breast cancer awareness as we beribbon. One in eight lifetime risk, screening at 40 are the data we print and the data women read.

For Cumberland and surrounding counties, however, this pinkwash of national data does not give the full story, the real message that must also be heard. For community women, the breast cancer death rate is 20 percent above national average. Simply put, Cumberland County women have (unnecessarily) higher risks of dying from breast cancer. The county's death rate from breast cancer exceeds both state and national averages, and exceeds the rate in all other metropolitan North Carolina cities.

Here are the complementary National Cancer Institute stats: Stage 0 breast cancer: 100 percent survival at 5 years. Stage 1 breast cancer: 99 percent survival at 5 years. Stage 2 breast cancer: 85 percent survival at 5 years. As would be intuitive, the survival statistics plummet for more advanced Stage 3 and 4 disease. This data is clear - early stage breast cancer is cured.

Hence, our community message is clear, and it is reassuringly the message of the American Cancer Society:

Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health exam by a health professional, preferably every three years. Starting at age 40, women should have a clinical breast exam by a health professional every year.

Breast self-examination is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of breast self-examination. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.

Women at high risk (greater than 20 percent lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15 percent to 20 percent lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent. 

Dr. Sheryl G. Jordan is a fellowship-trained breast imager for Carolina Regional Radiology and Valley Regional Imaging in Fayetteville.