Get screened and know your risk for breast cancer

This year alone, more than 280,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S., according to The National Breast Care Foundation’s estimates. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to remember that there are ways to lower your risk and to detect problems before they get out of hand.

Technology and treatments for breast cancer are more advanced now than ever, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect preventive measures.

Dr. Jennifer Hawasli, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon with Lawrence Breast Specialists, said one of the most important things you can do at home is give yourself a self-exam once a month.

“Self breast exams are a wonderful way to know your body and track any differences,” Hawasli said. “Breasts are naturally lumpy and bumpy, so anything or any lump you notice is different should be checked out, even if it may be nothing. The rule of thumb is to check up to your collarbone.”

She said many times, there is no pain associated with cancerous spots. In some cases, pain may be an indicator that the spot is not cancerous, but you should still have any abnormalities looked at by a physician.

“Only 1 in 10 breast cancers hurt,” Hawasli said. “If you notice a bump, do not panic. It may be benign and not cancerous, but the sooner a cancer is caught, the more treatable it is. A breast cancer caught in its early stages has a 90% survival rate, so we really want to catch it early.”

Screening and tests

Hawasli said women should start getting mammograms at age 40, unless they have a family history of breast cancer. In that case, patients should start at 35 or possibly even earlier, depending on the specifics of their family history.

Dr. Jodie Barr, an oncologist with the LMH Health Cancer Center, said that no matter what, there should be no cost barrier to receiving the screenings you need. She said that LMH offers mammogram vouchers and screening events for patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a mammogram.

“All women should be able to get their scheduled mammograms without worry about cost,” she said.

In addition to mammograms, there are genetic tests that can determine whether you’re at higher risk. The risk for breast cancer and many other cancers can run in families.

“Since family history is so important, we now offer genetic testing for our patients and community members,” Barr said. “We are at a point in time where technology and screenings have never been so advanced.”

Beyond the clinic

While tests and treatments are important, Barr said cancer care is about more than just treatments at a clinic. Health care providers also collaborate with patients and their families with social work and other resources. At LMH Health, this includes a survivorship program for after the treatment has ended.

Barr said it’s important for cancer treatment to go beyond the disease itself and to look at the whole person and their family.

“A cancer diagnosis is possibly one of the most anxiety-provoking moments in a person’s life,” Barr said. “… Our team understands the stress this can put on patients and their families and we are here for them every step of the way.”

Part of that comes from making procedures more efficient. Barr said LMH tries to streamline its screening processes, and that “there is not a big delay in between screening and diagnosis.”

LMH Health is accredited by the Commission on Cancer, a quality program of the American College of Surgeons. This accreditation is awarded to institutions that demonstrate a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer as a complex group of diseases. It comes after a rigorous, two-year survey process that monitors protocols, treatments and outcomes in cancer care units.

“We are thrilled to be CoC certified,” Barr said. “This gives us even more tools, resources and learning opportunities to advance our care for our patients.”

“At the end of the day, our patient and their health will always be our number one priority,” she added. “Whether you have been diagnosed with stage one, two, three or four breast cancer, we want you to know we are always here for you. We will fight with you each step of the way and with advancement in cancer care every day, we are more hopeful than ever with our treatments. Throughout your journey, you will never walk alone.”

— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist for LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.


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