October is breast cancer awareness month, so WETM and Guthrie are teaming up to bring you everything you need to know. In this week’s segment, 18 news reporter Ariel Salk explains what it means to be high risk and the resources available in our community for the women who are.
“Being a woman is a risk factor for breast cancer, men get breast cancer too but 100 times less frequently than women,” said Dr. Firdos Ziauddin, Breast Surgical Oncologist, Guthrie. “There are many risk factors for breast cancer, including having dense breast tissue or a family history of ovarian, pancreas, or prostate cancer….but having a first-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer is the most common red flag of them all”
“Almost three-years-ago my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away pretty quickly due to complications from cancer and then last December my mom was diagnosed, and in the background, I remember as a kid my grandmother had a breast tumor,” said Randi Randall, patient, Guthrie high-risk clinic.
“The first one was my aunt and I was probably seven-years-old. And then my mom, and my sister, and my daughter. So it’s been three generations,” said Stephanie Johnston, Guthrie high-risk clinic patient.
Breast cancer runs in both of these women’s families, but thankfully neither of them has been diagnosed themselves. That doesn’t stop them however from being vigilant…randi and Stephanie urging other women to do the same.
“I think just as women, in general, we really need to wake up and pay attention to changes in our breasts, do self-breast exams, it’s all-important and the high-risk breast clinic is an addition to what we should be doing ourselves as prevention,” said Randall.
The Guthrie high-risk breast cancer clinic offering many resources for women including risk calculations, genetic testing, and tailored screening plans.
“Some people are referred here because of their family history, others because of biopsy results they’ve had in the past, and what I can do is help guide women to have specialized screening,” said Melissa Cantellops, nurse practitioner, Guthrie high-risk clinic.
Both Randall and Johnston taking part in twice a year screenings instead of the recommended annual check-up for women of average risk.
“It’s been proven to be so important to be screened early, have it found early….And being a nurse I feel it’s important to do preventative health screenings whenever we can,” said Randall.
“High-risk clinic: it works out nicely because it’s a twice a year screening. We could do everything in one day but it still would be a whole year before you’re having an examination on your breast so the 6 months works nicely and it’s a twice a year encounter with me to have a breast exam as well,” said Cantellops.
“There’s always that anxiety days before the mammogram and days before the MRI but then it’s like…ok if 6 months ago I didn’t have anything and I do now they probably caught it in time if there’s something there,” said Johnston.
In some cases, doctors can even suggest strategies to reduce women’s risk of developing breast cancer.
“Some patients who have above average risk may benefit from taking an estrogen blocker for a few years so we may refer them to an oncologist, so again, they don’t have cancer, but we’re referring them to our oncologist because our oncologist prescribes the estrogen blocker pills which can help reduce breast cancer risk. Not everyone needs them, but we do have that option,” said Dr. Ziauddin.
Having a variety of options and resources helps put patients of the high-risk clinic at ease.
“They make you really comfortable, they’re friendly and they just talk. They tell you things that you should know,” said Johnston.
“She did re-screen me, so we went through the screening tool again, she told me what her plan was, what she normally does for women that are considered to be high risk, answered all my questions, and then since then she’s been a resource for me to reach out to anytime I have questions,” said Randall.
Providers from multiple disciplines coming together with one goal…finding and treating breast cancer when its small and most curable.
“Some patients may need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other targeted therapies. Not everyone needs all of those treatments but it’s important to put them in the right sequence and that all the doctors involved in that patient’s care are in agreement as to the plan so that the patient has optimum treatment,” Dr. Ziauddin said.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of things we can do to prevent breast cancer, but what I can do is help people catch it earlier and be proactive in their situation,” said Cantellops.