Every year in October, football players start wearing pink socks, pens and cups are available in pink and pink ribbons are seen everywhere you go. While this influx of pink can be fun, we have to remember it is for an important reason — to raise awareness for the very real problem that is breast cancer.
According to Baylor Plano Elizabeth Jekot, MD, Breast Imaging Center at the Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, an estimated 231, 840 women will be told they have breast cancer in 2015. This means that they will have to embark on a very personal journey with this disease, while facing survey and possible radiation and chemotherapy.
“Fortunately, breast cancer mortality rates have decreased by 34 percent since 1990, due to improved treatment and early detection,” said Jekot. “The advent of 3D mammography also called tomosynthesis offers the promise to improve these numbers even more. This technique allows us to look into the breast by creating multiple images or slices, like pages in a book. This is particularly helpful for dense breasts. It has been proven to decrease callbacks or false positives from screening, while at the same time, significantly improving cancer detection rates. This translates to early detection and the possibility of obviating the need for chemotherapy in some cases.”
Jekot says that women do not realize how many aspects of their lives will be affected by her breast cancer diagnosis and resultant treatment. These negative affects include physical, emotional, mental, social and economic tolls as well as severely impacting relationships, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
“As a fifteen-year breast cancer survivor and someone who has devoted her professional life to the early detection of breast cancer, it delights me to see that although very important, we are not just focused on the diagnosis and the disease,” said Jekot. “We are focused on the patient who just happens to have that disease — that the scope of care goes beyond surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Survivorship group-based intervention programs offer the hope of helping keep the disease at bay, while improving the quality of hopefully a very long life.”
Baylor Plano offers a biobehavorial intervention program called From Cancer to Health (C2H) that is designed to improve patients’ coping during cancer treatments. These hospital-based outpatient group interventions have been proven by researches to reduce anxiety, improve immune response, improve perception of social support, improve physical functioning, reduce physical symptoms, increase positive dietary changes, and reduce risk or recurrence.
Other treatment options are available for patients with breast cancer, including: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy based on the recommendation from an oncologist according to Tricia Muse, MBA, Program Director at Methodist Hospital for Surgery’s Center for Wound Care & Hyperbarics in Addison. Although in some cases, complications from breast cancer can lead to the necessity of wound care treatment.
After a cancer surgery, the surgical incision can open, which causes a wound. The tumor can erode the skin causing a fungating tumor that requires advanced wound care for draining and odor control, and also causes a huge risk for infection. Muse says that for a small percentage of cancer survivors, the radiated breast tissue can become compromised, causing an open wound. Sometimes, the wounds are so bad that they will not heal quickly or without advanced wound care, which can lead to a diminished quality of life.
“Our mission is to share our knowledge and the benefits of advanced wound care with all who may benefit, so we may help reach and heal more patients,” said J.R. Williams, II, MD, Medical Director, Center for Wound Care & Hyperbarics. “Our goal is to help people living with wounds to return to a better quality of life.”
Connie Oliver, VP of Marketing and Client Relations at Solis Mammography in Dallas, the nation’s largest independent provider of screening and diagnostics for breast health services, is worried that the intense publicity of Breast Cancer Awareness Month may have unintended negative consequences. She says that many women say they are scared away from getting a mammography for fear of receiving a bad result, so she wants women to Rethink P.I.N.K.
“Rethink P.I.N.K. empowers women with choices so they can take charge of their health decisions and find peace of mind,” said Oliver. “Almost half of all women over the age of 40 who have health insurance still don’t get their annual mammogram. Because treatment options are so much better and less invasive with early detection, we believe that’s where lack of knowledge really hurts women. From our research, women tell us that the whole mammogram process makes them anxious—from initial scheduling through to the time spent waiting for their results. So it was important to us to create an entirely different kind of experience, one that would reduce stress and create such an exceptional experience that women wouldn’t avoid getting the mammogram they need.”
The approach Solis is taking seems to be working, as Oliver reports more than 95 percent of their patients would recommend Solis to friends, more than 76 percent return each year (a much higher number from the 53 percent national norm), and 89 percent report little to no discomfort because of their “breast-dedicated technologists” who are experts in placement and compression.
If you are not sure what you need to know about getting a mammogram, Oliver has some tips. First, choose carefully. Because you have a choice in where to get a mammogram, do your research and put as much thought into your mammogram provider as you do when choosing a doctor. Next, ask about the technology. Not all centers have 3D technology known as tomosynthesis, which leads to a 37 percent reduction in unnecessary callbacks. Finally, she recommends asking who reads the mammogram. Breast imaging specialists are radiologists who spend more than 90 percent of their time reading breast images, and read more than 5,000 mammography images per year, so they have a better idea of what to look for. Oliver mentions that Solic breast-dedicated radiologists each read between 7,000 and 10,000 screening and diagnostics mammograms a year.
Dr. Shannon Walker, radiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, wants women to know the risks of breast cancer. “While any woman can develop breast cancer, those at greatest risk have a strong family history of the disease,” Walker said. “Among those women, known genetic abnormalities, such as BRCA 1 and 2 genes, significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Other risk factors include having dense breast tissue, ethnicity and age.”
If you have a strong family history of cancer, genetic testing should be high on your priority list. For the general population, Walker recommends measures to decrease the risk of developing breast control, such as weight control, a healthy diet, exercise, smoking cessation and limited alcohol intake.
Annual screening for mammograms should begin at age 40, according to the American Cancer Society, although high-risk patients may need to be screened at an earlier age. Most importantly, women should take yearly women’s physical exams and practice the self-breast exam method to help with early detection of breast cancer.
Although all-things-pink is fun, do not forget the significance of the color this month, and make sure you get your physical exam and your mammogram to make sure you are cancer-free.