Column: Get cancer risks off your chest


Commentary by Erica Giblin, M.D.

Ladies, have you ever felt your breasts for a lump, then prayed what you felt was normal? Welcome to the club.

When women detect a lump at home, they’re often scared. They hope and pray it goes away, and often self-sacrifice when it comes to choosing between caring for their family and making time for a screening.

Screening, however, is key to ensuring they can continue to care for their loved ones.

Breast cancer screenings are designed to catch problems early so women have a greater chance of survival. By the time you feel something at home a doctor could have caught it already and made progress on treatment.

Among leading breast cancer risk factors are:

1. A family history of breast cancer on either parent’s side. Many women think only of mom’s family, but you get half of your DNA from dad, so it’s important to look at his side of the family, too.

2. The age of family members diagnosed with breast cancer also matters. A pre-menopausal woman – say, in her 30s or 40s – is considered young, and a diagnosis at her age could mean the disease’s gene runs in the family.

3. A woman also is at greater risk if a previous breast biopsy revealed abnormal cells. In that case, doctors advise seeing a breast surgeon in a high-risk cancer clinic.

It’s worth noting that nearly half of women have such dense breasts (meaning a greater amount of breast and connective tissue compared to fat), that mammograms can’t see through that tissue well. It’s like looking at a polar bear in a snowstorm: white on white. In those cases, Indiana law requires facilities performing mammograms to issue breast density notifications to patients — an indication that more testing might be needed.

To overcome the breast-density obstacle, more advanced health centers have begun adopting a test called tomosynthesis – “tomo” for short – or 3D mammogram. The tomo takes images of the breasts at different angles, building a 3D image so clinicians can see through thin slices of dense breast tissue. At a minimum, tomos decrease the chance that a patient will have to return for additional testing.

Whether seeking an initial screening or high-risk treatment, one should visit with a fellowship-trained breast surgeon. Fellowship training means the surgeon has additional, specialized training and spent considerable time working within the industry’s most advanced systems, applying the latest surgical techniques and breast cancer care.

In all, the first step to countering risks is knowing where you stand. Though family and work commitments may limit your availability, breast screenings help ensure you stick around to honor those commitments.

Dr. Erica Giblin is a breast surgeon with St.Vincent Medical Group in Carmel. For more information, call 582-9355.