News: Being Vigilant: Check for breast cancer at every age
Story by Christine Cabalo
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii - There are now 1,309 fewer accredited mammography scanners nationwide than in July 2007, according to this month’s Food and Drug Administration statistics monitoring the Mammography Quality Standards Act.
In Hawaii, more than 38 certified facilities are available to screen for breast cancer, including one at Naval Health Clinic Hawaii.
“We offer self-requesting mammograms at our clinic for all women 40 and older who have no breast lumps or [prior] concerns,” said Mary Johnson, Makalapa Clinic breast health educator, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii.
Johnson guides people through the treatment process, helping them with follow-up appointments and offering support. The service is much needed, as 95 percent of new breast cancer cases are in women 40 and older, according to latest figures from the American Cancer Society.
Tracy Navarrete, the clinic’s health promotions coordinator, encourages regular check-ups especially after she was diagnosed with cancer. In May 2010, her doctor found a lump she didn’t initially think was a concern due to regularly lifting weights. After requesting follow-ups, including a biopsy, she discovered she had breast cancer.
“I never thought I would get sick with cancer,” Navarrete said. “You don’t think it can happen to you. Now, I don’t rule out anyone. You can be the fittest of fit, and then get it. Early detection is important.”
Other tools are available for women in their 20s and 30s who don’t show symptoms, but could still have breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends clinical breast exams at least once every three years, when a medical professional does a physical check for lumps.
The society also suggests women can do breast self-exams, checking as often as every month, for changes in appearance or shape.
In February 2010 doing a self-check helped Sera Song, a spouse of a Marine stationed with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. She felt a lump and alerted her doctors about the change immediately. Initially, her doctors suggested another exam six months after she finished breast-feeding her newborn. However, Sera decided to go through additional medical testing while visiting her mother in Korea.
“They recommended me to do an ultrasound,” Song said. “The doctors found out my cancer was spread out, and it was already in Stage 3.”
After following up on her self-check exam, Song and her doctors learned her breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She and her husband were able to make a digital copy of the exam results to present to Hawaii doctors and begin immediate treatment.
“It’s very important to do screening,” Song said. “With testing, I discovered I had a gene mutation for breast cancer.”
As cancer survivors, both Navarrete and Song agreed being proactive and following up with their health concerns helped them get treatment. Navarrete said the earlier lumps or other symptoms of cancer are detected, the better chances a person has in recovery. She also urges people to be aware of any symptoms and to see a doctor regularly.
“Statistically, one in eight women will get breast cancer,” Navarrete said. “It’s a high number. You think of your friends, and the people you come in contact with, that’s a lot people.”