Breast Cancer: Screening, Hidden Scar Surgery and Deb's Story
In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss breast cancer topics, including:
Breast Cancer Detection
Mammography remains the gold standard in the early detection of breast cancer. Women should begin going for yearly mammogram screenings at the age of 40. However, some individuals with a strong family history of breast cancer may need to start getting mammograms earlier than that. If you have a family history, it’s important to talk to your physician about what’s best for you.
For example, if a patient’s mother developed breast cancer at a young age, the patient should begin screening for breast cancer 10 years earlier than when her mother was diagnosed.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening – mammograms administered to patients with no signs of problems.
- Diagnostic – mammograms administered when there is an abnormality found in a screening mammogram or a lump found during a breast exam.
Physicians recommend an annual screening mammogram to check for signs and symptoms of breast cancer. If there are any abnormalities, the physician may call the individual back for a follow-up, diagnostic mammogram and then a biopsy to see if the abnormality is cancerous or benign. Throughout this process, the physicians of our community work alongside patients to help them understand diagnostic results, decide what their next steps are, and recommend care that best suits the patient’s needs.
Three-dimensional mammography is steadily becoming the standard for annual screenings. These types of mammograms improve detection rates and decrease the amount of ‘false alarms’ because they take several images of the breast at different angles. This allows radiologists to examine the scan in ‘slices’–avoiding overlapping dense tissue that often hides or mimics malignancies.
During the 3D part of the exam, the x-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over the breast, taking multiple images. Then a computer produces a 3D image of the breast tissue in one-millimeter slices, providing greater visibility for the radiologist to see breast detail in a way never before possible.
Drew Davis, MD, is a diagnostic radiologist in the Triad and a member of the Cone Health Medical and Dental Staff.
Hidden Scar Breast Surgery
Treatment for breast cancer most often involves a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous tumor (lumpectomy) or the entire breast (mastectomy), depending on the case. In the past, the scars left after surgery were obvious and a constant reminder of cancer treatment. Recently, advances in surgical techniques have made it possible for successful procedures to be performed in ways that leave less visible scars.
To minimize the visibility of scars and leave a woman looking as natural as possible, surgeons make incisions in less obvious areas, such as in the fold beneath the breast, along the border of the areola or along a natural crease in the armpit. Using the hidden scar technique, specialists are able to successfully treat a woman’s cancer while also preserving quality of life and appearance that can be important as women find their new normal. Hidden scar nipple-sparing mastectomies remove all the tissue from the breast while preserving the nipple and areola for a more natural appearance.
A nipple-sparing mastectomy is performed by both a breast surgical oncologist and a plastic surgeon, who performs the first steps of reconstruction. Taking a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment, Cone Health Cancer Center’s exceptional team of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons and other cancer-related medical experts meet together to develop each patient’s individualized treatment plan and ensure that each patient is educated and comfortable with the plan.
Matthew Wakefield, MD, is a surgeon and the medical director of the Cone Health Breast Cancer Program.
Deb Pomeroy was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in March 2016 after a scan found a tumor in her right hip. The cancer had begun in her breast but had spread to her hip before it was discovered. Following a combination of treatment methods, Deb is now a volunteer with the Patient and Family Advisory Council and a mentor with the Alight Program.
During her treatment, her oncologist Dr. Magrinat was a big source of encouragement and support. He encouraged her to take advantage of the resources Cone Health offers to the community, including counselors, classes and support groups. When she mentioned a hiking program UNCG offers for cancer survivors, he joined the group on a hike to make sure it would be a good fit and so he could recommend them to other patients! The support she’s found through attending classes and participating in support groups has helped her learn to not only live but thrive with cancer.
Support is a vital part of most cancer journeys and there are so many opportunities to connect with other patients or survivors in the Triad. Cone Health support groups are open to all members of the community, even if you didn’t receive treatment at Cone Health.
It was during treatment that Deb also learned about the Women’s Only 5k Walk & Run. Deb and her daughters participated in the walk for the first time in 2016 before her treatment was finished, and they plan to join the crowd again tomorrow. To Deb, nothing compares with being surrounded by so many other survivors, supporters and loved ones in one place.
The 26th annual Women’s Only 5K Walk & Run took place on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Cone Health Women’s Hospital. Race registration fees go to the Cone Health Mammography Scholarship Fund (providing mammograms for women in our community who otherwise would be unable to afford one) and the Cone Health Alight Program (offering educational, emotional and financial support for local women during their treatments).
In 2017, the Women's Only featured more than 2,100 participants and raised $99,703 to support the fight against breast cancer.
Deb Pomeroy is a breast cancer survivor. She received her treatment at Cone Health Cancer Center.
Skip Hislop serves as vice president of oncology at Cone Health.