Preventative screenings, early detection still keys to survival

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - There wasn’t a quiz but there were plenty of questions asked and answered on this particular evening.

Dr. Elizabeth Riley quickly fired off information to those assembled for the second annual Think Pink event at Paroquet Springs Conference Centre.

The evening was held to both educate and celebrate breast cancer awareness.

Over 250 people attended the event, sponsored by PBI Bank, the Bullitt County Extension Service, the Bullitt County Health Department and the Kentucky Cancer Program.

Riley, a medical oncologist at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center and the University of Louisville, said there were five questions a woman should ask their doctor.

First, she said there should be conversation on a particular person’s risk for breast cancer and when they should begin undergoing annual screenings.

The American Cancer Society’s recommended age is 40. However, Riley said there are factors which might make that date much sooner.

The biggest indicator is family history. If there is no family history, the chances of contracting breast cancer is about 12 percent. That doubles if there is a mother or sister who has been diagnosed. And if there are genetic factors, the likelihood jumps to 60-80 percent and screenings could start at age 25.

“You need to talk to your doctor,” said Riley. “There are calculations which can be done.”

In 2008 figures, over 182,000 are diagnosed with breast cancer and over 40,000 die annually.

Riley said there are some things which can’t be controlled by woman - age, family history and genetics.

However, there are some things which can be controlled - obesity, hormone replacement, alcohol use, bio-identical hormone therapy and oral contraceptives.

A second question often heard is whether a second option is needed.

“You need a great pathologist,” said Riley.

With five types of breast cancer, Riley said the treatment of the disease is based on the tests conducted. With a good diagnosis, successful treatment is more likely.

“I would always get a second opinion on your pathology,” said Riley.

A third question is whether there are tests which can determine if chemotherapy is needed.

Riley said once again that the proper information from a pathologist is the key.

If the oncologist is given the proper information, the best treatment plan can be developed.

In some of the treatments, chemotherapy would be avoided.

Another question is whether a person might be eligible for a clinical trial.

To continue the search for cures, Riley said clinical trials are vital.

At the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, several trials are always underway.

Some of the trials may deal with the drugs used but others don’t.

She said this is something the patient and the doctor must discuss.

Finally, are there ways to prevent breast cancer from occurring?

Riley went back to the factors controlled by humans - alcohol intake of more than 1-2 drinks a day, hormone therapy, bio-identical hormone treatments, obesity and oral contraceptives.

She said there are also some chemo-prevention drugs that are available. If a woman has atypical mammogram screenings with non-cancerous legions, the drug might be prescribed.

But the best way to combat breast cancer continues to be annual mammograms for early detection, said Riley.

Dr. Swannie Jett, director of the Bullitt County Public Health Department, said his agency is aggressively pushing women to get their annual checkups.

“Early detection is the gold standard,” said Jett.

The health department, in conjunction with the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, has mobile mammogram units several times a year. The final one for the year is set for December.

He urged women to make sure they get their annual mammograms. Since 2001, he said the health department has spent over $1 million in its breast and cervical cancer prevention program.

No matter their income level, Jett encouraged women to call the health department.

He told the story of his grandmother who had never had a breast exam. At the age of 57, she was diagnosed with cancer. But with treatment, she is still alive and well.

Jaime Wientjas, a representative of the Kentucky Cancer Program, said her agency does work with the health department in Bullitt County as well as across the state.

The agency, which has 13 regional offices in Kentucky, is also responsible for the exams during the annual state fair in Louisville.

“If you need a mammogram, call your health department,” said Wientjes.

For more information, call the Bullitt County Health Department at 543-2415.