Let’s beat breast cancer

This year, more than 250,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed, making it one of the most common and feared malignancies for women in the United States. However as awareness, technology and research advances, breast cancer is becoming more and more treatable. Today, with the financial support from Friends (formerly UnityPoint Health — Trinity Auxiliary), the Norma Schmoker Women’s Center now provides the latest treatment for breast biopsies.

Beating breast cancer starts with educating ourselves on the disease. In celebration of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, UnityPoint Clinic Norma Schmoker Women’s Center shares what every woman should know about breast cancer.

Early detection is key

The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer increases by approximately 4 percent each year. The good news is that the breast cancer survival rates are also increasing due to greater breast cancer awareness, increased utilization of mammography and improved diagnostic imaging. Practice good breast health by following the optimal screening strategy:

• Get an annual breast exam by your primary care provider.

• Perform monthly self-exams.

• Schedule a routine mammogram starting at the age of 40, or sometimes earlier for high risk patients.

All women are at risk for breast cancer

A woman’s best defense is still early detection, but there are certain risk factors that may indicate a higher breast cancer risk. Overall risk of breast cancer increases with age and many risk factors are hormone-related and cannot be altered. You may be more likely to develop breast cancer if you have:

• A person or family history of breast cancer.

• A benign form of breast disease.

• Menstruated at an early age.

• Menopause late in life.

• Never had children.

• Given birth to your first child after age 30.

• Recently used oral contraceptives.

• Post-menopausal estrogen for a long period of time.

Breast cancer symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms play a major role in detecting the disease early. Note that symptoms are not always obvious or painful, so any suspicious breast conditions deserve a second opinion from a medical professional. If a mass, lump, indentation or other abnormalities are found in your breast, seek medical attention immediately. A patient’s likelihood of long-term survival is greater if a tumor is found early, when it is less than one inch in diameter and there are no lymph nodes involved.

Don’t wait: Schedule a 3-D mammogram

UnityPoint Clinic has 3-D mammography which has shown even greater improvement in detecting more cancers while reducing the number of follow-up mammograms. 3-D mammography can help us find breast cancer earlier by providing more precise images. With conventional digital mammography, a radiologist sees all of the overlapped tissues of the breast in one flat 2-D image. In some instances, this can give the illusion of an abnormality even though the breast is normal. By looking at the breast tissue in one millimeter slices, a radiologist can provide a more accurate assessment. 3-D mammograms are especially favorable for high-risk patients or those with dense breast tissue, but they are also beneficial for all women needing a diagnostic or standard mammogram.

Tests that require a closer look

Should a women’s mammogram reveal a lump or changes in breast tissue; a biopsy may be needed to get a closer look. Because of the financial support from Friends the Norma Schmoker Women’s Center now offers stereotactic breast biopsies in-house. A stereotactic breast biopsy uses mammography to guide the doctor and determine the exact suspicious location that needs to be biopsied. The patient is awake during the procedure. After using local anesthetic to numb the area, a small incision is made to allow entrance of the biopsy needle. After the samples are obtained, a small clip is then placed to mark the area. This is the best technique allowing doctors to see and biopsy calcifications well, while being minimally invasive. The biopsy or procedure itself only takes a few minutes; however the preparation for the procedure typically takes a half hour to an hour.

The sample of the breast tissue is then sent to the lab for testing and patients are usually notified of the results within a few days. In rare cases, it can take up to two weeks if the specimen is sent to another lab for a second opinion or special tests are required.

From early diagnosis to treatment all the way through recovery, UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge is dedicated to providing the best cancer care right here in our community.

Joshua Zawacki, DO, is affiliated with Radiology Consultants of Iowa PLC.