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Paint It Pink - Times-News

A screening mammogram saved my life

Published: Sunday, September 25, 2016

Special to the Times-News

I was back at the hospital again — this time for magnified images on my right breast. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be asked to return for more images after my yearly screening mammogram. Dense breast tissue was the cause.

But this time, the radiologist also asked for an ultrasound to create additional images of the tissue. He showed me the area on the screen that concerned him and recommended that I have a core needle biopsy, a procedure that uses a hollow needle to remove samples of tissue from the breast.

I wasn’t overly worried. As far as I knew, there was no history of breast cancer in my family.

However, the pathology report for the biopsy indicated Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, a difficult cancer to diagnose and the second most common type of breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 180,000 women in the United States find out they have invasive breast cancer each year, or about one in every eight women.

About 10 percent of all invasive breast cancers are invasive lobular carcinomas. (About 80 percent are invasive ductal carcinomas.) And as I read more, I learned that most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. A family history is just one risk factor. Other risk factors, and there are many, include being a woman, getting older, having children late in life or not at all, not being physically active, being overweight or obese after menopause, having a longer exposure to estrogen and progesterone, drinking alcohol and having dense breasts.

The sneaky cancer I had does not always show up well on a mammogram because of the cells’ tendency to grow in a single-file line, rather than form a mass. I thought about this after reading a recent report that found that radiologists can be skillful at detecting even subtle abnormalities on a mammogram at first glance. They can have “hunches” based on something real in the images.

My cancer is in remission now because of my radiologist’s “hunch” and the skilled surgeons and nurses and assistants who cared for me. I don’t take any of this for granted. My life was saved because of a screening mammogram and the early detection of cancer.

Yet many women don’t have screening mammograms because they lack health insurance or they can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. For this reason, the Henderson County Department of Public Health partners with the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program to serve women who are uninsured or underinsured.

“If you think about it, you probably know someone who has or has had a diagnosis of breast or cervical cancer. It has been proven that screenings and early detection of these cancers can drastically reduce the incident of cancer-related death,” said Carrie Baldwin, RN, BCCCP coordinator. “BCCCP can help those women who have put off screenings because of financial concerns.”

Breast screening services are for women 40-64 years of age who have a household income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level and do not have Medicare Part B or Medicaid. Women who are under 40 or over 64 years of age and have symptoms may also be eligible for screening. Cervical cancer screening is for women ages 21-64.

Services include clinical breast exams, screening mammograms, pap tests, diagnostic procedures (diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, colposcopies, breast and cervical biopsies) and medical consultations.

If a woman needs cancer treatment and is enrolled in BCCCP prior to a cancer diagnosis, assistance is available through Breast and Cervical Cancer Medicaid.

Breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for women in North Carolina. Yet we know that the earlier cancer is found, the better the chances that treatment will work.

In my case, I had no symptoms of breast cancer and had never detected anything by self-exam. I was simply taking care of my health by getting my yearly screening mammogram that was covered by my health insurance.

But if you’re a woman who has put off screenings because you lack health insurance or are underinsured, BCCCP can help. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, please call Hannah Corn at 828-694-6010.

Kimberly Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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