October 4, 2016
NORTON, Kan. – Breast cancer develops when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and eventually form a malignant, or cancerous tumor, according to the American Cancer Society. Tumors can be detected as a lump in the breast by the person or through mammography, which is offered at Norton County Hospital. Also offered at the hospital is a wide spectrum of breast surgical care.
Watching for signs of tumors in the breast is important year-round, but October calls to mind the importance of regular mammograms among women age 40 and older. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and although men can get breast cancer, it occurs almost entirely in women.
The best protection is early detection.
Due to regular mammography screenings, breast cancer is often found at an early stage before warning signs appear, said Dr. Pamela Steinle, surgeon at Norton County Hospital. However, if a person suspects a tumor in the breast, the best action is to contact a primary care provider immediately. The primary care provider will often order a mammogram and consult a surgical specialist to biopsy the tumor to identify if it is malignant or not.
If it is malignant, the focus shifts to helping the patient build a team of medical providers, which in addition to a general surgeon may consist of a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and plastic surgeon to allow the patient to explore various treatment options and establish a recommended course of treatment.
The American Cancer Society wants patients to understand that most breast lumps are not cancer; they are benign tumors, which are abnormal growths but are typically not life threatening. A coordinated team of medical providers could also assist the patient in care options for benign tumors.
In addition to a lump in the breast, other warning signs of breast cancer also exist, but Dr. Steinle said the warning signs are not the same for all women.
“Each breast cancer situation is unique, so I encourage breast self-awareness,” Dr. Steinle said. “This means knowing your ‘normal’ and being aware of changes in your breast. It may be a change in the look or feel of the breast or nipple. It may be a firmness or lump, change in skin color or texture, or a puckering of the skin. It may also be a pulling sensation or discomfort in one spot that doesn’t go away.”
Know the risks.
Women should be aware of several risk factors for breast cancer. Those include factors women can control, as well as some that are out of their control. Lifestyle-related risk factors, according to the American Cancer Society, include drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day, being overweight or obese, and not participating in regular physical activity, as examples. Other risk factors out of a woman’s control include getting older, having certain inherited genes or a family history of the disease, being of a certain race and ethnicity, and having dense breast tissue, as examples.
“Be physically active, meaning get regular exercise, and maintain a healthy weight as recommended by your doctor,” Dr. Steinle said. “To be safe, I would say to limit alcohol consumption to less than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. For a healthy diet, limit your fat consumption, and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which may help lower your risk of breast cancer and other cancers as well.”
Care is provided close to home.
Norton County Hospital helps keep patient care close to home in many ways, and among those ways is offering digital mammography. The patient must first see a primary care provider, who will order the mammogram. To see a provider at the Norton Medical Clinic, call 785-877-3305. Once the provider orders the mammogram, the patient can call 785-877-3351 and ask for the hospital’s radiology department to set up an appointment.
“Images are sent to our radiologist, and we receive a final report in a couple of business days,” said Allison McChesney, radiologic technologist at Norton County Hospital. “If the report reads negative for signs of breast cancer, patients will receive a letter stating the negative results. If any follow-up exams are recommended, patients will receive a call from their primary care provider, who will explain the results in detail.”
McChesney added that digital mammography, when compared to the old standard screen-film mammography, provides for more detailed images with less radiation exposure for patients. The Norton County Hospital will present patients who have a mammogram in the month of October with a free gift.
When a lump is detected, appropriate treatment becomes the focus. Norton County Hospital can provide surgical consultation to determine the best way to make a diagnosis. This could mean the surgeon performing a minimally invasive biopsy at Norton County Hospital or perhaps making a referral for more detailed imaging.
Dr. Steinle said she can also do breast-conserving surgeries and mastectomies in Norton. If the patient desires plastic surgery for breast reconstruction, she could help coordinate referrals for that care as well. The hospital’s providers and surgeon are here to help patients make the best decisions for their diagnosis and can be a part of the entire treatment and recovery process.
Learn more about breast cancer.
For a full list of known risk factors, log on to www.cancer.org. For more information about the Norton County Hospital visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nortoncountyhosp or website at www.ntcohosp.com.