Exams a Must for Detecting Breast Cancer
Breast exams and mammograms are important tools in early detection. Holy Cross Hospital helps low-income residents receive care.
Do it in the shower. Do it while getting ready for bed. Just do it once a month.
Get familiar with your breasts. Look for lumps, changes in size, shape or feel, and to see if there is any fluid. All women should know their breasts and surrounding areas so they can be aware of changes, the American Cancer Society recommends.
"Early detection is your best protection," said Shelly Tang, community and minority health manager at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
Self-breast exams and annual screenings increase the chances of breast cancers being found in an earlier stage rather than a later stage, she added.
It’s even more important that women in their 20s see a doctor for a Clinical Breast Exam every three years — and once a year after turning 40. Most doctors recommend annual mammograms for women 40 and older. Higher risk men and women should see their doctors more often.
“Many breast cancers will be found in women who never felt a lump, because on average, mammography will detect about 80 to 90 percent of the breast cancers in women without symptoms,” said Kristina Thomson, executive vice president, interim, for the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey.
In Maryland, experts predict 4,850 new cases of breast cancer to be diagnosed this year.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the idea is to educate women and men and to raise money for the cure. Sometimes women are afraid to go see their doctors, but this is the time to do it. Grab a friend and make appointments.
Developments in the medical field include more targeted treatments for breast cancers, such as those found at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville. The hospital is currently conducting three studies for patients at different stages, according to Dr. John Wallmark, co-director of oncology clinical research at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and medical oncologist.
"For breast cancer and cancer in general, what we've experienced in the last five to seven years is a revolution from chemotherapy to more targeted treatments," Wallmark said. "It's really had an impact in terms of women living longer and living better with less side effects."
For many women — and men — living in Montgomery County, the access to health care and a lack of resources creates a disparity. However, programs like the Holy Cross Hospital Komen-Community Assistance Mammogram Program (K-CAMP), also known as the Mammogram Assistance Program Services (MAPS), provide free breast screenings to residents who are low-income, racially and ethnically diverse, uninsured, or underinsured.
Through Komen programs, referrals submitted by Montgomery Cares Clinics are screened and if they are deemed eligible, receive breast cancer education, screening, links to treatment, navigation services, follow-up care and supportive services, according to Tang. Since 2004, 2,750 women have been screened for breast cancer — 1,012 clinical breast exams, 1,531 screening mammograms and 1,151 diagnostic mammograms.
Although a majority of the clients are in the 40 to 64 age range, Tang said abnormal findings and breast cancer diagnoses can come earlier, especially in ethnic populations. She said the science isn't definitive but mentioned a lack of access and genetics as possible factors. As a result, the program focuses on the younger population as well.
Another option, the Holy Cross Hospital Financial Assistance Program, helps those with income above the level required by MAPS through partial or full coverage. According to Tang, the hospital is willing to work with those in need as much as it can.
The American Cancer Society works closely with health departments and health care systems to provide free mammograms. Call 1-800-227-2345 for more information.