October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Regional One Health experts say it’s a great time for women to be proactive about getting a screening mammogram.
When cancer is identified early, it is much more treatable and survival rates are higher.
Regional One Health offers the best screening technology and expertise, as well as a new comprehensive oncology practice that provides optimal care for patients who are diagnosed with cancer.
While about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, advances in early detection and treatment are saving lives every day. At Regional One Health, breast cancer care starts with exceptional screening and continues with comprehensive oncology services.
Medical oncologist Arindam Bagchi, MD, said the goal is to customize treatment to each person’s diagnosis, goals and life: “We realize every patient and every cancer is different, so no two patients have the same treatment plan. It’s based on personalization of the medicine.”
It starts with Regional One Health’s imaging experts, who use the latest mammogram technology to identify cancer early.
Muhammed Afzal, MD is a board-certified diagnostic radiologist and Patty Novak is an imaging tech. They urge average-risk women to get annual screening mammograms starting at age 40 to catch breast cancer when it is still treatable and survival rates are higher.
“Studies have shown again and again if you start screening at age 40 you significantly cut your risk of dying from breast cancer,” Dr. Afzal said. “Breast cancer deaths have been reduced by 37 percent since mammography screening became common in 1990.”
“The best chance of successful treatment always come from detecting cancer early,” medical oncologist Dr. Arindam Bagchi said. “We provide multidisciplinary care designed around their personal needs.”
“Early detection is key, and it’s important to come back every year because your body changes,” Novak added.
Women with risk factors like family history, hormone treatments, etc. may need more frequent mammograms and should ask their provider about their screening needs.
At Regional One Health, mammograms are done using 3D technology, which is the best at spotting cancer, especially in dense breast tissue. Tests are performed by an experienced tech and read by breast imaging radiologists with specialized training in interpreting mammograms.
Appointments are readily available and results are read promptly. Women who need follow-up tests like a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound get in quickly.
If a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Bagchi and surgical oncologists Martin Fleming, MD, FACS and Miriam Tsao, MD work with radiologists, genetic counselors and other experts to implement optimal treatment for each patient’s unique diagnosis.
“A cancer diagnosis is one of the most difficult times in the life of a patient, and we consider it a privilege to be part of that journey,’ Dr. Fleming said. “The best cancer care is provided through multidisciplinary collaboration, and we strive to bring the highest level of care to our patients.”
The first step is a biopsy, which is typically performed in radiology. If that is not possible, Dr. Fleming or Dr. Tsao will perform it as an outpatient procedure with the patient under local anesthesia.
If the biopsy shows the lump is cancerous, the oncology team uses the pathology results, imaging, bloodwork and other tools to determine the type and stage.
For many patients, surgery is part of the treatment plan, and Dr. Fleming and Dr. Tsao provide a full range of options.
“The best cancer care is provided through multidisciplinary collaboration, and we strive to bring the highest level of care to our patients,” says surgical oncologist Dr. Martin Fleming.
Some patients require a mastectomy, or full removal of the breast tissue; while others can have procedures like a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy that preserve the breast. They also perform removal and biopsy of the underarm lymph nodes in case cancer has spread.
For many women, there is also the option of breast reconstruction surgery either at the time of their cancer surgery or later on in treatment. Surgical oncologists talk to patients about their options and preferences in order to deliver the best outcome.
Medical oncology also plays a significant role in successful care.
If a tumor is large, Dr. Bagchi can deliver treatment to shrink it so surgeons can operate. Medical oncologists also see patients post-surgery to continue to treat their breast cancer, treat cancer that has spread, and prevent cancer from coming back.
Dr. Bagchi said the medications he uses depend on the type and stage of cancer.
For breast cancers that are ER-positive, meaning growth is driven by the hormone, he uses hormone therapy delivered by pill: “It used to be all cancers were treated with chemotherapy, but that isn’t the case anymore. Recent advances in the treatment of hormone-positive breast cancer mean we start with anti-hormonal pills,” he said.
Other patients are HER2-positive, meaning the cancer is driven by a protein. For these patients, biological and antibody treatments along with chemotherapy offer the best results.
Finally, triple negative cancers, often linked to the BRCA1 gene, are not related to hormones or protein. Dr. Bagchi said they respond best to a mix of IV chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“Early detection is key, and it’s important to come back every year because your body changes,” says mammogram technician Patty Novak.
He noted all of the medications have advanced in terms of prolonging life and curing disease, especially for cancer that is caught early. There are also better medications for addressing symptoms caused by cancer drugs, such as nausea, tingling and numbness from chemotherapy and hot flashes from hormone therapy.
“We manage side effects very well,” Dr. Bagchi said. “It’s part of providing good care. Patients deserve longer life and quality of life, so we do everything possible to reduce side effects.”
No matter what treatment a patient needs, providers agree successful breast cancer care involves early detection and personalized, multidisciplinary treatment.
“The best chance of successful treatment always come from detecting cancer early,” Dr. Bagchi said. “I always say I would rather a patient never need an oncologist. But if they do, we can provide excellent multidisciplinary care designed around their personal needs.”
For a screening mammogram, walk in or call the East Campus Imaging Center, 6555 Quince Rd., at 901-515-3600; or contact the main campus at 901-545-6969. Learn more about our oncology services at https://www.regionalonehealth.org/oncology-main-campus/