Local Surgeon Discusses Breast Cancer Prevention - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Local Surgeon Discusses Breast Cancer Prevention

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As mammography screening rates have increased, more cases of breast cancer have been found at earlier stages, when chances of survival are highest.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1/8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45  However, 2/3 invasive cancers occur in women over 55.

Age is certainly a factor, but there are others women should be aware of. Those risks include:

*Having one first degree relative, like a sister, mom or daughter, with breast cancer

*Women who began their menstrual cycle early (before age 12) or went through menopause late (after age 50)

*Women with no children and women who take birth control

*Those who drink 2-5 alcoholic drinks daily

*Women who are overweight or obese

Race also has a role to play.  White women are slightly more likely to develop the disease than African Americans.

"Early diagnosis is our best weapon in the management of breast cancer," Hattiesburg General Surgeon Dr. William Whitehead said. 

He encourages self-breast exams at home, but he says that is not the most effective way.

"Breast self-examination is extremely important, but for a lump to become palpable,that you can feel it's abnormal, it's probably been there 5 or 6 years," Williams warned.

He explained every woman should have an annual mammogram starting at age 40, but women with a family history should start tests at 35.

Women and teenage girls can be tested to see whether or not they carry a gene that puts them at a high risk of breast cancer.  If positive, they have the option to undergo prophylactic surgery, the surgical removal of one or both breasts as a preventative measure.

"Certainly prophylactic surgery sounds like a dramatic recommendation," Whitehead said. "There are drugs that have shown the effect of reducing the incidence of cancer, but not 0. The most affective one drops it down to 50%, so it's about a flip of a coin."

He said technology has come a long way in his 40 years of practicing medicine.  He said 90% of diagnoses are made with minimally invasive biopsies, which means it's done with a needle instead of surgery.

After that, as long as the cancerous cells were found early, the patient decides whether to have a lumpectomy to remove a portion of the breast where the lump is found or a mastectomy where the entire breast is removed.

He says usually once cancer has reached stage 4, the cancer is harder to treat.

"We remind patients to be very knowledgeable of that risk and stay in contact with their primary care physicians or gynecologists and surgeons for annual check-ups, mammogram's and those sorts of preventative type procedures help us identify and perform the correct diagnoses and treatment," Williams said.

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