Early detection key to surviving breast cancer

Published 11:04 am Tuesday, October 3, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Studies shows that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sometimes breast cancer is hereditary. Sometimes it develops from other risk factors.

Dr. Jon Binkerd of Chilton Surgical Associates said suspected risk factors include smoking, weight, taking oral contraceptives, not breast feeding and hormone replacement therapy for menopause.

Men with a family history of breast cancer are also at risk for the disease.

“The thing with breast cancer is the earlier it is detected the better,” Binkerd said.

Having a regular menstrual period at a young age, but starting menopause later than the average age, can also increase risk of breast cancer. Medical advances have led to medication to block hormone production if it is feeding cancer cells.

He said the earlier the stage of cancer when it is detected, the greater the chances of the patient living through it.

The five-year survival rate for those with stage 4 breast cancer is 26 percent.

Monthly self-exams can be key to early detection. Binkerd said the exam should be done around the time of a women’s menstrual period because lumps will be easier to feel.

“No one is going to know your body better than you,” Binkerd said. “A lot of times if you can take that responsibility yourself, you can save your own life.”

Fear should not keep someone with concerns from seeing a physician, even those without insurance. Binkerd said there are organizations that help pay for mammograms, diagnosis and treatment for those who do not have health insurance. The local health department can provide the initial exam and mammogram.

He said patients who delay getting a suspicious lump checked out can cause themselves more stress than if they went to a physician. The longer someone waits, the less a doctor can do if it is cancer.

Binkerd also said patients need to be careful when researching their symptoms online.

Guidelines recommend women have their first mammogram between ages 40 and 50.  Those who have a family history of breast cancer should start having mammograms sooner.

After a baseline exam, Binkerd said women should have a mammogram every one to two years, depending on their situation and the recommendation of their physician.

“About one in 10 will have an abnormality on a mammogram,” Binkerd said. “In that percentage, about 90 percent of those when you do follow up mammography, you do find that those are benign issues.”

Only about 10 percent of those who have an abnormality show up on a mammogram actually have breast cancer.

“There are options that you have now that they didn’t have 20 years ago,” Binkerd said.

One such option is a needle biopsy, which uses an ultrasound to direct where the needle should be inserted into the potentially cancerous tissue. Binkerd said an incision is then made at the site to remove the suspect cells for further testing by radiology.

Binkerd did the first breast needle biopsy at St. Vincent’s Chilton on Sept. 27.

The procedure was done as an out-patient procedure.

“Once we have a diagnosis, we start talking about what their options are,” Binkerd said.

Specific markers indicate the best surgery option as well as the best forms of radiation and chemotherapy to remove the cancer.

Tests can also be done to see if the genetic breast cancer indicator, BRCA gene, is present.

Local medical facilities can handle everything from the initial consultation to the complex surgery for removal and treatment.

For more information, visit Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama (komenncalabama.org) and American Cancer Society (cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html).