GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It's estimated that one out of eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. That's one reason education about the disease is so important.
October is breast cancer awareness month and there are numerous fundraisers taking place to raise money and bring awareness. There's also a push to encourage women to remember their annual mammograms.
Dorothy Tatum gets her annual mammogram at Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport faithfully, every October. But that wasn't the case seven years ago.
"I wasn't getting them on a regular basis like I should have," Tatum admitted.
That's when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She believes if she had been getting mammograms every year at that time, her breast cancer would've been caught in the early stages, and treatment would have been easier.
"It was in the late stages. It was stage three and I had no clue."
Dorothy had a mastectomy and reconstruction, along with radiation and chemotherapy. Seven years later, she feels very lucky to be alive, and she's happy to call herself a survivor.
"It feels wonderful. Just wonderful."
General surgeon, Dr Paul Mace, treats a lot of women with breast cancer. He says far too often, as in Dorothy's case, it's not caught in the early stages.
"Too many times I have women come in with large palpable masses they ignored or didn't notice, that could've been picked up as a small tumor. The smaller it is when diagnosed, the easier it is to treat; and early detection offers the best shot at a cure."
He said the mammogram is one of the best ways to do that, along with the monthly self breast exam.
"We're trying to catch them when they're small; and not when they're golf ball size; and more likely to have metastasized."
In recent years, there have been new recommendations released for mammograms by the US preventive services task force that call for fewer mammograms, not starting until age 50. But Dr Mace agrees with the American Cancer Society's recommendations for annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
"A third of my patients are under age 50 when diagnosed. And if we followed those [recent] guidelines, their cancers may not have been caught in time. So in my own practice, I recommend they get their mammograms at age 40 every year."
Dorothy hopes that sharing her story will encourage other women to take getting their mammograms more seriously.
"It's very important. Because if you have an aggressive cancer, it could go through the stages very quickly, and before you know it and it could be too late."
To encourage women even more to get their mammograms, a number of hospitals and clinics, including Garden Park, offer specials on mammograms during the month of October.