When Kristin Sealman, 41, went to scratch a simple itch last summer, she noticed what felt like a rock in her breast. Subsequent testing revealed a pre-malignant ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) mass, and in October, she underwent a mastectomy.
A fifth-grade math teacher at Foundations Academy in Brighton, Sealman had no family history of breast cancer or any prior indications that she might be at risk of developing the disease. Her story is all too common and illustrates the potentially lifesaving value of regular breast cancer screening and early detection.
“The beautiful thing about screening is that we can detect many breast cancers before they’re palpable, so they’re usually found at a much earlier stage,” said Sydne Muratore, MD, a breast surgeon with SCL Health Saint Joseph Hospital and medical director of the Platte Valley Breast Cancer Program. “Some women can even avoid chemotherapy or radiation altogether if (their cancer) is found early enough. For women who do not get routine screening, cancer often cannot be diagnosed until it is grown large enough to start causing symptoms.”
Although early detection can make a stark difference in breast cancer survival rates, too many patients tend to put off or avoid scheduling regular mammograms because of busy lifestyles, insurance barriers, confusing and contradictory guideline messages, or fear of what the doctor might find.
“A large number of women have missed their breast cancer screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Muratore added.
Screening mammography for women of average risk of breast cancer can begin at age 40. Women are encouraged to have a conversation with their primary care doctor to determine what is best for them.
Patients with SCL Health, now Intermountain Health, have access to a comprehensive spectrum of state-of-the-art services including mobile mammograms, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - and ultrasound-guided biopsy, oncology, radiology, physical therapy, patient navigators, and patient-led support groups. Thanks to technological advances like high-resolution 3D (3 Dimensional) mammography, screenings now allow board-certified radiologists to find small cancers earlier than ever before, an especially significant development for women with dense breast tissue.
“Women need to know that if you are found to have breast cancer, it doesn't mean you automatically need a bilateral mastectomy,” said Dr. Muratore. “Surgical treatment has evolved considerably since its inception, and for a lot of patients, there are much less invasive breast-conserving options available.”
Because Sealman’s breast cancer was caught at Stage 0, she did not need any follow-up treatment after her surgery and was fully back to work within a month.
“If you feel something, say something,” she urged. “It’s better to have it turn out to be nothing than wait and risk your life.”
“Mammograms are one of the most important health screenings women can have,” said Dr. Muratore. “They not only detect changes in a woman’s breast health well before an abnormal mass can be felt, they also greatly improve breast cancer survival rates. In fact, the average five-year survival rate for women is 99% when (localized) breast cancer is detected in its earliest stages.”
Intermountain Health caregivers provide a comfortable and confidential environment in which patients can ask questions, discuss their breast health and receive important breast exams and tests. Schedule a mammogram today at sclhealth.org.