Health & Fitness

Advancements in screening, treatment abound in fight against breast cancer

The brachytherapy machine, picture. Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy uses radiation only at the site of the tumor.
The brachytherapy machine, picture. Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy uses radiation only at the site of the tumor. Provided by Saint Alphonsus Health System

In my time as a breast surgeon, I have witnessed tremendous advancements in the way we screen, diagnose and treat breast cancer.

As a physician and as someone who has had friends and family affected by breast cancer, I’m excited to say that there are more treatment and detection options available today than at any point in the history of cancer care.

Unfortunately, however, breast cancer still remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women — which is disheartening to know when you consider the new options available for detection and treatment.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to address some of the common concerns I’ve heard from patients about screening and treatment, and give a little more information about the options available to women today.

Start with mammograms

The first question I usually get is, “When should women seek mammograms?”

There is quite a bit of confusion around screening. The American Cancer Society recommends that mammograms start around age 45, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says age 50.

However, I see all too many women between the ages of 40 and 50 diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s why for me, the answer is quite clear. Women should be seen for a mammogram starting at age 40 to significantly reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer.

If you’re 40 and over, now is the time to seek a mammogram — it could save your life.

There are many different ways in which we’re implementing mammogram technology to detect breast cancer sooner in its most treatable phase. We have implemented 3D mammography in our care centers, which has been shown to increase the detection of invasive breast cancer by 30 to 40 percent, while simultaneously reducing the rate of false positive results.

This sort of improvement in detection has already saved a number of patients from having to seek more extensive breast care because of the early detection of the cancer before growth or metastasis.

New technology

Finally — and perhaps most impressive — is a new technology in treatment called partial breast radiation. Partial breast radiation treatment is a shorter course of radiation for women with early-stage breast cancer.

Traditionally, when a woman undergoes a lumpectomy (also known as breast conservation surgery), it is recommended that she go through five-day, weekly radiation treatments for five to six weeks following the surgery.

Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy, on the other hand, uses radiation only at the site of the tumor. By giving a more directed dose, it can reduce the time for radiation down to five days. That’s an 83 percent decrease of time between the traditional treatment and the partial breast site treatment, which has major implications for those looking to move past their diagnosis.

Whether screening, diagnosis or treatment, one thing is clear — the advances in technology have allowed detection to become easier and treatment to become shorter.

The last thing left to do is to encourage women to seek a mammogram over the age of 40. If you know a woman over the age of 40 who hasn’t had her annual mammogram yet, now is the time to say something. It could save her life.

Dr. Elizabeth Prier is a breast surgeon at Saint Alphonsus Breast Care Center and Women’s Specialty Clinic in Boise and Nampa. Learn more about Saint Al’s at saintalphonsus.org.

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