SEATTLE — The ongoing logistical nightmare of trying to live as normal a life as possible has had a serious impact on people making and going to their annual health care appointments. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, health care professionals are strongly advocating for women – and even at-risk men – to have their yearly checkups.
“It's been a crazy year in health care as everyone knows, and one of the things that have been sort of shoved to the side is preventive exams, and that's where mammography comes in,” said Dr. Paula Hallam with the Swedish Breast Imaging Center.
“I really want to take this opportunity to stress the fact that there are some women that have been traditionally what we call just gaps in screening,” she said. “And those women are women that are often from the lower social-economic class, some rural populations, and black women. And it really is important for that latter group because these women often get diagnosed at a much earlier age and often have really aggressive cancers as well.”
With early detection, a key element in successfully treating breast cancer, the health care community is concerned that the COVID pandemic is keeping patients away from routine exams – either through fear of the coronavirus or an inability to squeeze it in around the myriad other responsibilities.
Dr. Hallam says that her clinic has implemented strict COVID protocols to reduce the risk for everyone, including patients who need to have an annual mammogram.
“If you’re average risk, you really need to start (mammograms) at age 40,” she said. “If you do that, we can see that there's almost a 40% reduction in breast cancer deaths.
“There's a subset of women (at) intermediate or high risk (regardless of age) – these women usually they have some family history, some genetic mutations, they might have radiation to their chest at an early age, abnormal needle biopsies – those women definitely need to get annual screening and really should be considered for additional screening such as with breast MRI.”
Although much rarer than in women, men can get breast cancer as well. Some symptoms for everyone to look out for to discuss with your physician are pain or lumps in the breast tissue and unusual nipple discharge.
When you do make your appointment, take heed of ongoing COVID protocols limiting the number of people in waiting rooms.
“Just as a global thing, we are discouraging any additional escorts coming into the breast center,” Hallam said. “And relative to the safety we really double-check to make sure that you are symptom-free before you come into our breast center.”
For more information, visit Swedish.org.