In the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women and is the second-most common cause of cancer death in women.
Though October is a great time to remind us that breast health and breast cancer prevention are paramount to a woman's health, breast health needs to be on our minds year-round.
"Detecting breast cancer early, before symptoms of the disease develop, is a very important strategy to prevent death from the disease," said Stephanie Dublis, D.O., Medical Oncologist and Hematologist, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health. She notes breast cancer risk increases with age, with most women being diagnosed after 55, during the post-menopausal period. "Thankfully we have proven screening tools, such as mammography, to help detect breast cancer in the earlier stages—and hopefully prevent the need for radical surgery and sometimes even chemotherapy."
Metro Health has a dedicated and compassionate cancer program, including a nurse navigator to help guide women through receiving a daunting diagnosis.
"It's important to remember that only 5 to 10% of breast cancer is due to a detectable hereditary mutation," Dr. Dublis said, cautioning women about the availability and use of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, stressing that genetic testing should only be performed after a comprehensive assessment by a trained clinician. "Lifestyle and environmental risk factors, such as diet, exercise and alcohol intake, are very important to consider when estimating breast cancer risk. In fact, half of breast cancer diagnoses can be explained by known risk factors."
Amie Hop, M.D., Breast Surgeon, Spectrum Health, recommends becoming breast familiar by doing monthly exams and evaluating your personal risk factors, like radiation exposure, family history, abnormal breast cancer genes (BRCA1 or BCRA2), being overweight, and drinking alcohol in excess.
"I strongly encourage women to not put off screening or follow up examinations due to COVID-19," Dr. Hop said. "Hospitals and imaging centers, including Spectrum Health, have strong safety measures in place to protect patients. I would recommend women have a discussion with their providers about possible risk factors for breast cancer to determine if they are at average versus increased risk. This helps to ensure they are being screened appropriately."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.