October 5, 2023
Why Breast Cancer Screening Is So Important for Saving Lives
Many are aware that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as the “pink” designation has been front and center among different organizations. While October is the official month of observation, women and men should be keeping breast cancer awareness top of mind every month of the year.
One crucial element of this is breast cancer screening. Dr. Marc Erickson, General Surgeon at Fort HealthCare, offers helpful advice in respect to breast cancer screening and awareness.
Importance of Early Detection
An individual’s chance of surviving breast cancer and living a high-quality life dramatically improves the sooner breast cancer is detected. Much like any type of medical condition, early intervention saves lives. “Mammograms are incredibly important pieces of the puzzle. Everybody should be getting them. I wouldn’t let my wife miss one,” states Dr. Erickson.
He also shares how valuable it is that breast cancer screening can pick upon abnormalities before they are physically palpable. Now, that is not to say that a person who discovers a lump or other concerning symptom is in peril. There are many diagnostic and treatment processes that aid in a person’s overall well-being.
The Breast Cancer Screening Process
When patients come into Fort Healthcare, there are varying breast cancer screening approaches. They many need a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound, based on existing symptoms and imaging results from a traditional mammogram.
“A diagnostic mammogram is a little different than a traditional one. It’s not a big picture of both breasts where you’re just screening for abnormalities. It’s a focused picture, sometimes from multiple views,” explains Dr. Erickson. “If it’s just calcifications, which are little white dots you see on an x-ray, that would be all you’d get. But, if there’s anything that appears to have density, the patient will get an ultrasound as well. The combination of the ultrasound and the mammogram are evaluated by the radiologist.”
The radiologist then assigns a “score” to the imaging results. A score of one is the least concerning, five the most concerning. If a patient has a four or five, Dr. Erickson aims to get them into his office within 48 hours.
“When I see somebody in the office they’re pretty apprehensive. They’ve been told there’s something abnormal going on. My goal is to try and bring the temperature in the room down a bit and help them with their anxiety by giving them honest information,” he adds. “Generally, they also meet with our breast coordinator, Laura Jacobson. She is really good at helping people through the system.”
Next Step: The Breast Biopsy
Diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds that reveal concerning areas in the breast require a biopsy. Dr. Erickson notes that if the area of concern showed up on the ultrasound, he finds it’s easier to biopsy using ultrasound—known as an ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy. An alternative is to perform a stereotactic biopsy, which uses computer technology to guide the biopsy needle. Both techniques have improved greatly in the past years, due to technological advancements.
Again, it’s best to perform the biopsy in a timely manner—within 48 hours if possible—which also allows Dr. Erickson and his team to relay results to patients sooner rather than later.
“We have to put ourselves in the patient’s position and the family’s position. I wouldn’t want to be waiting around wondering whether I had cancer or not. Most of my office time is on a Wednesday. Very commonly, I’ll see someone on a Wednesday, I’ll do a biopsy on a Friday and I’ll have a result by the next Wednesday,” he shares. “Then, we sit down to talk about whether it’s nothing or what we’ll do as the next step.”
All benign biopsies receive a follow-up diagnostic mammogram at six months. “Our concern is that we’re doing this with a needle. It’s a large-bore needle, but you could miss something by a millimeter. We want to make sure that six months later, there’s not something else that’s developed.”