Getting routine mammograms could save your life

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. While it’s the second leading cause of cancer death in women, there is some good news: Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the annual death rate due to breast cancer has steadily decreased since 1999. These decreases may, in part, be a result of detecting breast cancer earlier through routine mammograms.

“While numbers continue to decrease, there will be more than 40,000 breast cancer deaths this year,” said Dr. Jennifer Hawasli, a fellowship-trained surgeon with Lawrence Breast Specialists. “Breast cancer can occur without a family history of any type of cancer. The disease is more common after menopause, but it can occur before.”

It’s also important to note that racial disparities exist when it comes to breast cancer. Black women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer before age 40 than white women and are more likely to die from the disease than any other race or ethnic group.

Signs and symptoms

Breasts are naturally lumpy, and no two are alike. What may be normal for you might not be for someone else.

“Breast self-exams are a wonderful way to know your body and track any differences,” Hawasli said. “You should check all the way to your collarbone and into the armpit.”

It’s important to contact your doctor if you experience:

• New lumps in the breast or underarm

• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

• Irritation or dimpling of the breast skin

• Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or breast

• Inverted nipple

• Pain in the nipple area or discharge other than breast milk, including blood

• Change in the size or shape of the breast

• Pain in any area of the breast

“Self-exams are important,” said Lorelei Sunderland, an advanced practice registered nurse with Family Medicine of Tonganoxie. “The majority of issues I’ve diagnosed have come from women knowing their breast and noting a change.”

Women should do a breast self-exam once a month. Choose a day that is consistent and easy to remember, like the first day of the month or the last day of the month. It only takes a few minutes and can easily be built into your day — when you shower or get dressed or undressed for the day, or while lying in bed.

Mammograms and risk assessments are key

Mammograms are one of the best forms of prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Most women should begin screening at age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer, it’s important to speak with your doctor to see if you should start sooner. Some patients are apprehensive — afraid the scan may hurt or that there may be an abnormal finding, for instance — but Sunderland said there’s nothing to fear.

“I can personally reassure you that mammograms aren’t as painful as the stories you may have heard. I’ve never experienced pain during a mammogram, and most patients return sharing that the scan wasn’t too bad,” she said. “As the stepmother of a young lady who lost her mother to breast cancer at an early age, don’t let fear stand in the way of being able to (detect) a highly treatable disease.”

When you schedule your next mammogram at LMH Health, you have another tool to help prevent breast cancer — a lifetime breast cancer risk assessment. The LMH Health Women’s Center works with LMH Health Imaging and the LMH Health Cancer Center to deliver this program to identify your breast cancer risk.

Prior to your mammogram, you’ll work one-on-one with a mammography technologist to complete a risk assessment form. The team will review your risk assessment form to determine your lifetime risk for breast cancer. They will look at a number of factors to determine your risk, including your age, height, weight, breast density, family history and any previous genetic testing results for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes.

“If your risk assessment shows that you have a higher risk, we’ll sit down with you face-to-face and discuss the things the technologist went over,” Hawasli said. “We’ll verify the score is accurate and use a tool that looks at four other lifetime risk calculators to get a better overall picture of your risk. Once we have that number, we can discuss all of the options we have here for you.”

Following your consultation, you might be referred to the LMH Health Cancer Center for additional care. The center is one of eleven hospitals in Kansas to receive accreditation from the Commission on Cancer. Through the cancer center, patients will have access to a cancer prevention program, enhanced breast imaging and breast exams twice per year.

Dr. Jodie Barr, a National Cancer Institute-trained physician with the LMH Health Cancer Center, said the estimated rate of survival for breast cancer is 90%, depending on the stage of the cancer.

“The five-year relative survival rate for localized female breast cancer is 99.1%,” she said. “This data shows the importance of screening and early detection.”

If you need assistance paying for a mammogram, the LMH Health Foundation offers mammogram vouchers to offset the cost. Contact the LMH Health Women’s Center at 785-505-3300 for more information.

“Breast cancer is a treatable disease,” Barr said. “We’re able to tailor treatments for each patient, improve preventative strategies and increase overall survival rates from this disease.”

— Autumn Bishop is the marketing communications manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.


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