Patient with no family history of breast cancer gets tumor surgically removed |

Patient with no family history of breast cancer gets tumor surgically removed

Routine mammograms and self-examinations at home can help with early detection, treatment

Rear view of senior couple relaxing at park
Couple relaxing at park

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Charlotte Woods was receiving a CT scan for her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) when her pulmonologist noticed an abnormal growth in her chest area.

He advised her to talk to her doctor about having the abnormality checked out. Per doctor’s orders, Woods had a mammogram performed, followed by a biopsy, and an early formation of a small tumor in her breast was discovered. Within one week of her visit with her pulmonologist, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2019, despite having no known family history of the cancer.

“I never thought I’d be thanking my pulmonologist for saving me from breast cancer,” she said. “I was shocked. Admittedly, I hadn’t worried about getting regular mammograms done or performing self-examinations because I didn’t think I was at risk.”

Woods was diagnosed with breast cancer at Memorial Regional Health and also received her treatment at the hospital. She opted for surgery to remove the tumor, since it was found it its very early stages. Dr. Jeff Womble performed the surgery in October 2019.

“It all happened so fast,” she said. “I leaned on my faith and talked to others who were diagnosed and undergoing radiation, and that really helped me. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time meant for raising awareness about breast cancer and the importance of self-exams and routine mammograms, as well as honoring the breast cancer fighters and survivors in our lives.

Breast cancer risks and warning signs

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women besides skin cancer. The risk for breast cancer also increases with age, as most women who are diagnosed are over the age of 55.

Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Talk to your provider about genetic testing if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancer.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends most women begin annual screenings at 40 years old; however, women should be assessed for risk of breast cancer starting at age 25. If a woman is at higher risk for breast cancer, she begins regular screenings earlier in life.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a newly developed lump or mass in the breast area, according to the American Cancer Society, and while most breast cancers are painless and hard in mass with irregular edges, they can sometimes be tender, soft or round.

About mammograms and their importance

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast, and there are two types of mammograms: 2D and 3D. 2D mammograms take images from the front and side of the breast. 3D mammograms, also known as breast tomosynthesis, provide images of breast tissue from many different angles throughout the entire breast.

Because 3D mammograms provide radiologists with a clearer image of breast masses, it can be easier to detect breast cancer. The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends women receive 3D mammograms over traditional 2D mammograms whenever possible due to its higher accuracy.

Benefits of 3D mammography include:

  • Reduced need for additional imaging when breast tissue is normal. 3D mammograms help radiologists see through tissue, which helps decrease the number of false positive results.
  • Ability to detect smaller cancers earlier than a 2D mammogram.
  • Improved breast cancer detection in dense breast tissue.

Routine mammograms, when combined with at-home breast self-examinations, can help women survive breast cancer through early detection and treatment. Other tests for breast cancer may include ultrasound, MRI or biopsy.

Woods has been disease-free for more than a year now, and she is hopeful it will stay that way for years to come. She said it’s important for other women to learn from her experience and get screened more often than they might think is necessary.

“It can happen to anybody,” she said. “I feel very lucky that my lung doctor said something. Who knows how long I would’ve gone and how much more the cancer would’ve developed without his help?”

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