For The Leader
Early detection. Good advice to a bluebird looking for breakfast. Critical for someone who could develop breast cancer.
Early detection catches cancer — before it grows, before it spreads, before it becomes life-threatening.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2017, about 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women were breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). (Although breast cancer can occur in men, ACS data shows that it is 100 times more common in women.)
Dr. Ajanta Patra, a diagnostic radiologist who specializes in breast radiology, and surgeon Dr. Ronnie Adams – both affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights – agree that early detection is the key to less extensive treatment and more positive outcomes.
“I can’t overemphasize the fact that mammograms save lives,” says Dr. Patra. “They can detect small masses before you feel anything. By the time you can feel it, it’s a decent-sized lesion.”
Although “mammogram” is a common umbrella term for radiological screening, there are actually two types. A standard mammogram produces 2-dimensional images. Tomosynthesis (also called 3D mammography) takes multiple pictures from different angles and constructs them into a 3-dimensional image that, according to Dr. Patra, reveals even smaller lesions. Tomosynthesis also reduces the incidence of “false positives,” a factor that can save time and reduce worry for patients.
Although the risk for breast cancer increases with age, the American College of Radiology recommends that women start annual screenings at age 40. Patients who schedule mammograms can request a 3D tomosynthesis, which, according to Dr. Patra, takes only a minute or two longer than a traditional mammogram. Most insurance plans, including Medicare, now cover the enhanced screening procedure.
If the result of an initial mammogram or tomosynthesis warrants further study, the next step is more extensive diagnostic exam by mammogram, tomosynthesis or ultrasound. Afterward, if necessary, comes a needle biopsy, which detects the presence (or absence) of cancerous cells within the lesion.
For patients diagnosed with breast cancer, Memorial Hermann Greater Heights utilizes a team approach. Three physicians who have primary patient contact – the surgeon, oncologist and radiation oncologist – are supported by a pathologist, radiologist and other members of the breast cancer team, including a nurse navigator. Dr. Adams says the team focuses on taking care of the “whole patient” – not only the medicine involved, but also answering questions and making sure nothing falls through the cracks in the detailed process of cancer treatment.
The two main treatment options for breast cancer remain lumpectomy, which removes the lesion, and total mastectomy, which removes all the tissue on the affected side. In some cases, chemotherapy is used to shrink the lesion before surgery. The choice is based on several inter-related factors, including the patient’s risk factors and the size of the lesion, but always, according to Dr. Adams, offering “the smallest amount of surgery possible without compromising long-term effectiveness.”
The key to long-term effectiveness and the most positive outcomes is to catch cancer quickly. And that starts with a yearly screening.
Schedule a mammogram at www.memorialhermann.org/schedulenow.