One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, but breast health self-advocacy can begin before a diagnosis is made.
Linda Blosser, RN, is a Certified Breast Self-exam Instructor of MammaCare and a Clinical Research Nurse at Springfield Regional Cancer Center.
“We go out into the community and teach (MammaCare),” she said. “We want to raise awareness and teach women how to do breast self-exams.”
Blosser said MammaCare is a new way of doing self-exams.
MammaCare encompasses the five-Ps: palpate, pressure, pattern, perimeter and positioning.
“We want to teach (women) that by doing self exams, what is important to know, is what is different for you.”
Blosser said every woman’s breast structure is unique, but it is important to determine what is different, specifically for her.
“We want to look for anything different: a lump, a bump a difference in skin texture, nipple discharge, color, breast size,” said Blosser.
“By doing a monthly exam you are going to know what those differences are.”
Knowing your family history also plays a role in breast cancer prevention.
“Your chances are greater if there is a family history,” Blosser said.
She also said women should have a baseline mammogram between the age of 35-40, and then every year after, but if there is a family history of breast cancer, mammograms may begin at an earlier age.
Tracy Stannard of Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 28th birthday.
“For women that have not been diagnosed, all I can say is, ‘Self-exam, self-exam, self-exam.’ Even if you do not have a family history of the disease, this does not mean you are not at risk,” she said.
“I had no family history at all. If I did not do monthly self-exams I hate to think where I would be or if I would be here at all.”
Local doctors treated Stannard’s cancer with chemotherapy and radiation.
She has been cancer-free now for 10 years and continues monthly self-exams and a yearly mammogram.
Stannard encourages newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to ask their doctors what the treatment options are.
“I would also have her ask about lumpectomy versus mastectomy,” she said.
Stannard said she was also very comfortable with her doctors.
“They were always there to ask questions to or just have a shoulder to cry on.”
A support system was an important element for Stannard during her treatment.
“My support system was my family and co-workers. (My husband) Mike was awesome. He took care of me when I was sick from the chemo and entertained (our daughter) Lauren so I could rest,” she said.
“He could get a smile and a laugh out of me even at my worst.”
Stannard said, other than the time off for surgeries, she worked completely through her treatment.
“I scheduled my treatments around my days off of work. Once I started radiation I would go down everyday to Nuclear Medicine at the Hospital on my breaks and get ‘zapped’ as I would say.”
Blosser said treatment for breast cancer patients at SRCC is unique to each woman’s type of cancer.
“We look at every new patient chart to see if they would qualify for a clinical trial,” she said.
Sandra J. Victor has been a physician with SRCC since 2004. She said a woman should see her doctor right away if she has any abnormalities in her breast.
“If a woman has a family history, any first degree relatives diagnosed under the age of 50, should be asking questions about genetic screening,” Victor said.
She also encourages research and support.
“If they come with a good prognosis, I will always tell them that,” Victor said.
“We also go through side-effects, complication, length of treatment, nutrition, skin care.”
SRCC also does oncotype testing, a molecular analysis of the patient’s actual cancer, which helps determine what type of treatment is best.
Victor explained that systemic therapy — chemotherapy or hormone therapy — goes through the patients’ whole body. Local therapy includes surgery and/or radiation.
“Radiation will treat the breast, but not the whole body. The job of chemo or hormones works on the breast, but also goes (through the whole body) in case any rogue cells have broken off and spread-that we don’t detect on imaging studies.”
Victor chooses not to use the word “cure” with her patients, but instead “without evidence of disease.”
“Cure implies you can see the future,” she said. “Until you can test every single cell in the body, you cannot say ‘cure.’”
While early detection is key, other conditions, such as fibrocystic disease, may cause breast abnormalities.
And men are not immune to breast cancer. Blosser said they should be aware, too.
Blosser said that 80 percent of breast biopsies are benign, or non-cancerous.
“Don’t panic,” said Victor. “But don’t ignore it.”
“If we can detect it early, chances of recovery are excellent.”
HOW TO GO
What: Senior Services Tea: Breast Health information session with Certified MammaCare Instructors Linda Blosser and Valerie Briner
When: 3 p.m., Tuesday, October 22.
Where: 101 South Fountain Ave., Springfield
More info: For more information or to register call (937) 323-4948
Cost: This is a free event. Women in need of financial assistance for a Mammogram can contact Breast Check at (937) 390-5513.