Mammograms: Make it routine
October 11, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas -- Christine Hutchison was 22 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
No family history, no knowledge of the bright pink ribbons that adorn store fronts and shirt lapels. Hutchison had no connection to breast cancer.
"It was a shock," said the young Fort Bliss military spouse as she sat at a Power of Pink kick-off event Sept. 21 at Del Sol Hospital in El Paso.
Hutchison's picture was proudly displayed among a row of other survivors -- she being the youngest member of the project.
"You don't think about cancer when you're under 40," Hutchison said. "But it can happen to anyone."
More than 226,000 women will be diagnosed with and more than 39,000 will die of breast cancer in 2012, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute.
After non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health care guidelines promote that women 40 and older receive an annual mammogram. But young women are still encouraged to give themselves routine breast exams and to visit their doctors when they experience unexplained pains or lumps. (Visit the American Cancer Society web page at www.cancer.org for tips on performing self breast exams.)
Men are at low risk for developing breast cancer; however, men are also encouraged to report any change in their breasts to a physician.
Hutchison's experience began with a pain on her left side and the discovery of a tumor. After a diagnostic mammogram and biopsy at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
WBAMC staff performs an average of 660 mammograms a month and conducts about 30 breast biopsies a month. Only a small percentage of the biopsies are diagnosed as cancer, but mammograms are considered an essential tool for discovering breast cancer in its smallest form.
Breast cancer typically produces no symptoms when the tumor is small and most treatable -- making recommended screenings very important.
"We can find something in a mammogram that you wouldn't feel for years," said Jeannie Cruze, breast care nurse, patient navigator and registered nurse at WBAMC.
A breast cancer diagnosis begins in the mammography suites. If a mammogram shows a suspicious finding, the patient is contacted to return for a diagnostic mammogram during which a doctor gives real-time feedback and makes the decision whether to order additional studies -- ultrasound or MRI -- and or a biopsy.
Cruze guides patients through the diagnostic and biopsy phases -- offering information about the procedures and possible outcomes.
"Everybody handles knowing that they will have a biopsy a little different," Cruze said. "Typically the patients with a family history of cancer are more upset."
According to the American Cancer Society, women with a family history of breast cancer are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer -- about 1.8 times higher for women with one first-degree female relative who has been diagnosed, nearly 3 times higher for women with two relatives and nearly 4 times higher for women with three or more relatives.
"Cancer runs in my family," said Danielle Threats, a licensed practical nurse at WBAMC and organizer for the American Cancer Society fundraising team the Beaumont Striders. Threats noted that it's usually the experience of cancer in the family that brings people to fundraisers and advocating for prevention screenings.
Elaine McDonald, a one-and-a-half-year survivor of breast cancer, had gone into WBAMC for a routine mammogram when doctors diagnosed her in 2010.
"It was a shock," said the 68-year-old woman. McDonald's cancer, which turned out to be less than a centimeter in size, was removed. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and is currently taking medication until her five-year mark.
The mammogram saved her life, said McDonald, who does not understand why other women hesitate to undergo the preventive screenings.
"You wouldn't believe how many women (over 40) don't do their mammograms. They may have a little fear, but so what. If they get screened they can catch it early," McDonald said.
In a room filled with pink cakes and cookies, streamers and balloons, the 22-year-old cancer survivor echoed McDonald's insistence on prevention.
"It was hard to hear that I had cancer. But the hardest part was telling everyone," Hutchison said.
"I have three sisters and I let them all feel the lump so that they would know what it feels like. And I told my mom to get her mammogram."
For more information on breast cancer, visit http://www.cancer.org.