Slowly but surely, we are winning the battle against breast cancer. Nationwide breast cancer incidence rates began to decrease in 2000, and survival rates have been increasing since 1989, reflecting significant advances in awareness, screening and treatment.
At SCL Health, which includes Lutheran Medical Center, we offer comprehensive breast health services for women of all ages to help them stay well, obtain the most advanced treatment if needed, and restore quality of life and reduce the risk of recurrence for breast cancer survivors.
Making Sense of Screening Guidelines
Although screening and early detection are critical, guidelines have shifted in recent years. In 2015, for example, the American Cancer Society pushed back the age at which women of average risk could start receiving mammograms from 40 to 45, although they should still have the opportunity to begin annual screening from age 40 if they wish to do so.
Every woman needs to decide when and how often to get screened after a conversation with her primary care physician, says Juhi Asad, DO, Medical Director of the Breast Center at Lutheran.
“The decision about mammography, genetic counseling, and screening and other tests will depend on your family history and your personal risk factors, such as post-menopausal obesity, reproductive history and history of abnormal breast biopsies,” she says.
Better Mammography Technology
SCL Health offers 3-D mammography, which compiles images from multiple angles to create a detailed image of the breast. 3-D mammography is used for both screening and diagnostic mammograms. Screening mammograms are routine exams administered to women with no breast cancer symptoms. Diagnostic mammograms are more detailed exams performed if there is a suspicious finding on a screening mammogram or if a woman has signs of breast cancer, such as a lump or nipple discharge.
“During a diagnostic mammogram, a radiologist will directly supervise the exam, requesting specific views of the area of concern,” says Whitney Morgan, MD, a radiologist and medical director of the Breast Care Center at Lutheran. The mammogram may be followed by a diagnostic ultrasound and other exams to determine whether a biopsy and subsequent surgery are needed.
A Navigator’s Role
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she receives immediate access to a comprehensive care team. Stacey Jensen, RN, BSN, a breast health navigator at Lutheran, contacts patients within 24 hours of when they receive a positive biopsy result to prepare them for their first meetings with their physician team, which may include a surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist.
“I remind patients that each breast cancer is unique and requires a customized treatment plan,” says Jensen, who serves as the point person for questions and concerns throughout treatment and continually assesses medical, social, logistical and financial needs.
Lutheran supports women well after they complete treatment by helping them achieve a healthy lifestyle, which may include losing weight. Fat tissue can increase the risk of breast cancer by raising estrogen and insulin levels.
“We recently started offering a subsidized Weight Watchers 12-week program for breast cancer survivors,” Jensen notes. “We also connect them to our integrative medicine services as well as community exercise resources to help them heal and stay well.”
For information about mammography, please visit scl.health/journal-mammo.