By Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA
Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to focus on prevention and treatment of this disease that, sadly, still affects one in every eight women. The news surrounding breast cancer is promising however, as compared to the grim statistics of decades ago.
I will remind everyone that COVID-19 is not a reason to postpone or skip your mammogram. Every virus safety precaution, from screening every patient and team member who enters our building and requiring universal masking, to meticulously cleaning our facility with greater frequency, has been instituted here so you’re safe when you come for care.
Not only do more than 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer survive to the important five-year post-diagnosis milestone, our approach to treatment is far more patient-centered than it was even 30 years ago. Women who undergo treatment for breast cancer are advised about lifestyle practices that can enhance their comfort during treatment and support their survival, such as sound nutrition and making physical exercise a daily part of life. In addition to traditional chemotherapy, which has certain harsh side effects, the development of targeted therapies that spare healthy cells has advanced significantly, as has the ability for us to customize treatments for multiples types of breast cancer that are fueled by different agents.
The fact that we’ll be equipped with 3D breast tomosynthesis capabilities means that in addition to standard mammography, which is recommended for most women, we’ll be able to offer this important complementary screening option that is especially critical for women with dense breasts.
Breast tissue is made up of different ratios of fatty and glandular (related to milk production) tissue. Glandular tissue is more challenging for radiologists to interpret, whereas fatty tissue is easier to read. A woman’s tissue distribution can change over her lifetime as well, so the 3D mammogram option will be a key screening we can offer to our community members so they can stay close to home for care.
HCH and our community are the beneficiaries of these upgrades thanks to the fact that we’re part of the larger HCA Healthcare/Mission Health system. Most community hospitals simply don’t enjoy benefits like this.
We must also remember that a critical aspect of breast cancer imaging comes down to the quality of the X-rays being acquired and who is reading the X-rays, the radiologist. I’m proud to highlight the fact that we have earned the very meaningful accreditation from the American College of Radiologists for our mammography. This means that our radiologists are reading X-rays that meet their high standard for quality. Additionally, we also have access through our relationship with Mission Health to board-certified radiologists who have fellowship training in breast imaging. I cannot overemphasize the importance of these two elements as essential to early detection of breast cancer.
In addition to being diligent about getting breast cancer screening, we know that performing breast self-exams is an important preventative practice that enables women to find an abnormality or lump early. We have also learned that the earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances a woman has for a full recovery, and that the likelihood of needing adjuvant treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, etc.) is reduced. In partnership with their physicians, women can make an impact on lowering their breast cancer risk now more than ever.
Take good care of yourself and remember to put your mammogram at the top of your “to do” list each year. Know also that HCH is here to provide breast cancer services, education and support.
In closing, I want to remind you to stay safe. COVID-19 continues to be present, and it is important that we continue to practice social distancing, wearing a mask and washing our hands.
Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.