Think pink: Moody maintains breast cancer awareness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
Decisions regarding health can be stressful and time-consuming whether it's deciding to take certain medications, starting physical rehabilitation after an accident or attending therapy after a traumatic event.

With October being breast cancer awareness month, one decision people all over the United States may make is whether to be screened for breast cancer. Here at Moody, more than 500 women were screened in the past year. 

"Breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the breast tissue," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Molly Brown, 23d Medical Group women's health nurse practitioner. "The most obvious thing that people notice is that they have a lump or a mass in their breast that wasn't there before. The skin might start to look different, for example, there may be a new mole or it starts to get an orange tint."

Some risk factors include known genetic mutations, a family history of breast cancer, starting your period before the age of 10, late menopause, obesity and smoking.

"Early detection is crucial," said Lawanna Barron, Family Advocacy outreach manager who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. "It's the only reason I'm alive today. If you don't catch it early, you could die. Women have to know their options and make the choices best suited for them. If you know you have a family history you need to get the genetic mutation test."

The common misconception of women only getting breast cancer isn't true. According to the American Cancer Society, 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Men and women with a family history of breast cancer or women with a family history of ovarian cancer can be tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genetic mutation.

"It's a mutation in a specific gene that we know increases women and men's risk of developing breast cancer and women's risk for developing ovarian cancer," said Brown. "The testing is done through an oral swab [or blood test] by a genetic counselor."

Jennifer Stevick, South Georgia Medical Center Pearlman Cancer Center nurse practitioner, said about 22 percent of all breast cancer patients are at risk for the hereditary syndrome.

"That doesn't mean they all have [the mutation], just that they have the family history," said Stevick. "Out of all men and women who have breast cancer, about seven percent developed it due to the BRCA mutation.

"If a [female] breast cancer patient has a BRCA mutation, they have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer," Stevick added. "[Breast cancer patients who have the mutation] need to be treated aggressively and are usually recommended to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as well as a bilateral mastectomy, [or a breast removal]."

Recently, the ACS updated their breast cancer screening guidelines. They recommend for women at an average risk of breast cancer to start mammograms at the age of 45 due to the risk of false-positives and overdiagnosis.

"During a false-positive, more mammograms are performed with different views, they may have an ultrasound and sometimes they may need a biopsy," said Brown. "Women have to go through many steps to find out if the spot in the breast is cancerous or not. For most people that causes a lot of anxiety and it can be a long process, anywhere from a few months to a couple of years."

Overdiagnosis means that patients are being diagnosed and unnecessarily treated for breast cancer when they have a form that may never become fatal or when they may not have it at all.

The ACS says that overdiagnosis is about 20 percent [of cases] and the risk of false positives with biennial mammograms is 30 percent.

Although ACS recommendations have changed, women will still have the option for mammogram screening between the ages of 40 and 44.

"If it was me personally, I would rather be diagnosed and find out it's not there later than chance missing it," said Stevick. "At least I would know. Catching someone in the early stage is huge. Their treatment options are better and their disease-free survival time is better."

Brown, Barron and Stevick all agree that before making any decisions people should know all the options. There are many opinions to review when looking into these preventative measures and everyone has a right to choose medical treatments and prevention methods for themselves.

"It's all about trying to weigh the benefits of a screening versus the risks," said Brown. "It's an ever-evolving process."  

Anyone looking to make an appointment for a mammogram screening can contact the appointment line at 229-257-2778.