Q&A on Breast Cancer Awareness

Staff Report

October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Holzer Health System recently conducted an interview with Alice Dachowski, MD, a general surgeon, to answer a few questions about the importance of breast cancer awareness and overall health.

The questions and answers appear below:

As a provider, what would you tell patients about the importance of annual mammograms and exams?

Many women in our local communities have delayed routine screening mammography due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed that the “delay in diagnosis of breast cancer will likely lead to presentation at more advanced stages and poorer clinical outcomes.” Screening mammography helps with early detection of breast cancer before it can be felt on physical exam and provides valuable time to start treatment. When breast cancer is detected early there is a much better chance to achieve better clinical outcomes and increase survival rates. Even during this unprecedented time of a pandemic, routine mammographic screening remains a crucial piece in the early detection of breast cancer.

What symptoms or signs should individuals be aware of?

It is very important that patients talk to doctor about their personal risk factors for breast cancer in order to decide when to begin and how often to get mammograms. As shared by the American Cancer Society (ACS), The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it’s important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by an experienced health care professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt);

Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel);

Breast or nipple pain;

Nipple retraction (turning inward);

Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened;

Nipple discharge (other than breast milk);

Swollen lymph nodes (Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt).

Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to a health care professional for investigation.

Why is it so important to catch breast cancer in early stages?

According to the ACS, when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%. Early detection includes doing monthly breast self-exams and scheduling regular clinical breast exams and mammograms.

Those who are diagnosed with breast cancer in early stages have more options available for treatment. Individuals can choose to have a breast lumpectomy and radiation therapy. Those individuals live just as long as those who elect to have a mastectomy with equivalent 5-year survival rates. Most patients diagnosed with breast cancer have no known family history of breast cancer.

What about breast swelling after vaccines? Does that happen? How does that affect my mammogram reading?

Vaccines of all types can result in temporary swelling of lymph nodes as your body’s immune system produces antibodies as intended. If you receive a vaccine too close to the date of your mammogram, it may result in a “false” positive reading of lymph node enlargement. If your screening mammogram is due now, either schedule it before receiving your vaccine or delay it for 4 to 6 weeks after the final dose is administered. If you are are having an active breast issue that is concerning you or your doctor, please proceed with any recommended imaging as soon as possible rather than delaying and let the staff at the mammography unit know if you have been recently vaccinated.

Is it true that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer? Men get breast cancer too. 1 in 100 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the US each year. The ACS estimates for breast cancer in men in the United States for 2021 are:

Estimated 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed;

Approximately 530 men will die from breast cancer.

The ACS reports that breast cancer is about 100 times less common among white men than among white women. It is 70 times less common among Black men than Black women. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 833.

What are your final thoughts on breast cancer awareness and maintaining your health?

According to the American College of Surgeons, in 2021 an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women; 2,650 cases will be diagnosed in men; and an additional 49,290 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed in women in the United States. An estimated 44,130 people will die from the disease (43,600 women, 530 men).

A multidisciplinary team approach with a surgeon, medical and radiation oncologist is very helpful in developing a personalized care plan when one is diagnosed with breast cancer. The most important member of the personalized health care team is YOU! We want to stress to our communities to take care of yourself and maintain your health to the best of your ability. Preventive medicine is key to living the best life possible.

According to a news release from Holzer, “Dr. Dachowski is a graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri and the Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She completed her internship and residency at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio and is Board Certified by the American Board of Surgery, National Board of Medical Examiners, and the American College of Surgeons. She is a member of the American Medical Association, Ohio State Medical Society, American Society of Breast Surgeons. Dr. Dachowski has served as the chair of the Holzer Cancer Care Committee and has been an American College of Surgeons Governor and Cancer Liaison Physician. She serves on the Board of the University of Rio Grande.”

For more information on services provided at Holzer, or to arrange for a mammogram appointment, call 1-855-446-5937.


Staff Report