NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Before the month ends, Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) is sharing what you need to know in a conversation at the WAVY Digital Desk.
Learn more in this discussion with Digital Host Sarah Goode and Dr. Rachel Burke from EVMS Surgical Oncology. Watch the full conversation in the video player on this page.
According to the CDC, 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women each year. For men, the number is much lower at about 2,100 cases diagnosed each year. Most breast cancer cases are found in women 50 years and older.
Screening is a big part of early detection, making breast cancer far more treatable.
“It really has made a huge difference in the last 40-50 years, certainly in my lifetime. The survival rates for breast cancer have improved dramatically,” said Burke.
When should you start screening? Dr. Burke says that depends on your risk level.
If you are at average risk for breast cancer at age 40. If you have a significant family history, or other risk factors, you would potentially benefit starting to get regular screenings around ages 25-30.
“We really try to individualize and really push to have the conversation earlier with patients, so that we can set them on the right path,” said Burke.
What puts someone at higher risk? There are some risk factors that can be addressed, other cannot be changed.
Family history is one factor that cannot be changed, but could lead to earlier conversations with a primary care doctor. Burke says radiation for other types of cancer can also impact risk for breast cancer.
Other factors that can increase risk, include:
- Being overweight after menopause
- Hormone replacement therapies around time of menopause
“It’s all about knowledge. Changing that (risk factors) later in life may not be as effective as changing it earlier in life, but we all have to start at some point,” said Burke.
If you notice any change in your body, Burke says it is worth being evaluated, even if you recently had a mammogram. There are other tests they can use in addition to mammograms.
Now, there are 2D and 3D mammograms available for patients. Burke says the standard of care in most instances is 3D mammograms.
“Unless you have very fatty breast tissue, if your breast tissue is at all dense, many women have very dense breast tissue, then 3D mammograms are really the way to go,” said Burke.
A 3D mammogram take a much more in-depth look at the tissue, giving them a much better picture. Burke said they have been show to have a higher detection rate of cancer.
Check with your insurance company, but cost wise it should not have much impact on the patient as many accept these more advanced screenings.
Burke shared what is new in both surgery and treatments.
“It’s a rapidly, constantly evolving field. And, there’s always new things,” said Burke.
In terms of surgery, Burke says they are able to do smaller and smaller surgeries, that still have just as good outcomes.
“In this day in age, we do a lot of what we call breast conservation, which is lumpectomies and preserving the breast,” said Burke.
For some patients who need mastectomies, they are able to save parts of the breast or do reconstruction.
The more exciting changes in recent years have been on the medical oncology side.
“Not just chemotherapy, but the immunotherapy that is used to treat breast cancer. And, we use a lot of treatment upfront, before surgery whereas we used to always do surgery first,” said Burke.
Find out more information by watching the full digital chat in the video player on this page.