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Davis Journal

Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings disease to the forefront

Oct 12, 2023 03:53PM ● By Becky Ginos

LAYTON—When Kristie Nelson got the news in May that she had breast cancer her first thought was what the future would hold for her and her children. Nelson didn’t want to tell them until she had all the information so she was mostly on her own through the process for the first one or two months. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and physicians and patients are encouraging women to take the steps necessary to prevent the disease.

“In the beginning it was really hard,” Nelson said. “At first we didn’t know if it had gone into the lymph nodes. I spent the first month waiting for a biopsy then waiting for results to find out what stage it was and getting genetic testing. The first 30-40 days were really hard.”

Results showed she was at Stage 1. “They determined that I should have surgery so they did a lumpectomy and radiation,” said Nelson. “I have one more week of radiation and from that point I should be on hormone therapy. There is a spot on a muscle that they’ll pay extra attention to but hopefully another surgery is not necessary.”

Nelson said she had had a lump since 2019 but didn’t think too much about it. “I’d never gotten a mammogram. When I was in Park City with friends they were talking about someone who had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and had gone terminal. We were having a conversation about mammograms and I was the only one who hadn’t had one.”

She told them about the lump and that it was no big deal. “They started freaking out and that prompted me to go in,” Nelson said. “I’m grateful that I listened to them.”

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer we see,” said Radiation Oncologist Robert Harris, MD at CommonSpirit Holy Cross Hospital – Davis in Layton. “One in eight women will face the challenge of breast cancer. If it’s caught early it’s treatable. With treatment, 92% of patients with Stage 1 do very well.”

Mammograms are very important in finding cancer early, he said. “They’re recommended once a year for women aged 40 and up unless there is family history then it makes sense to do it earlier. At a certain age it can be every other year.”

Technology has improved, said Harris. “We can see better than in the past with 3D technology. The radiologist can see the architecture of the breast. If you compress it, it becomes two dimensional with overlapping shadows. It can cause a false area of concern or a false positive.”

With 3D the radiologist can look at the breast from a different angle, he said. “Not all insurances will pay for 3D but my wife has been getting 3D ever since it became available.”

Over the past 40 years treatment was removing the entire breast, Harris said. “As images got better there was the option to do a lumpectomy with radiation afterward and just remove the cancer and not the whole breast.”

A study was done where half the women had a mastectomy and half a lumpectomy, he said. “They followed them for years and found that the cure rate was the same. They did it seven more times and found the same. They took all of the tests and compared them and the lumpectomy did slightly better with not removing the breast and just the spot followed by radiation.”

Harris said it’s not unique to breast cancer that patients want to know if they’re cured. “We follow it very closely and the longer you go without the cancer coming back it is unlikely it will. But until there is no evidence of disease, that's the only time we have the confidence to say you’re cured.”

It just takes a moment to get screened, said Nelson. “I’ve always been pretty healthy and I’m a ‘don’t fix it if it’s not broken’ kind of person. It only takes minutes out of your day for preventative care.”

Screening is really easy, she said. “The aftermath (of not doing it) is not so fun.”