Early detection – State study: Breast cancer diagnosed here quickly | TheUnion.com

Early detection – State study: Breast cancer diagnosed here quickly

If you are smacked with the life-threatening news of breast cancer, it turns out western Nevada County is a good place to have it.

A new state Department of Health Services study rates Nevada County as second behind only Marin County for early breast cancer detection. The county is tied for third for the lowest amount of late breast cancer diagnosis.

“It has to do with community awareness, a sensitivity for early detection and open access for treatment,” said Dr. Bill Newsom Jr., of the Cancer Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley.

“There’s really unusual services here,” said nurse Pat Donnelly, who runs the hospital’s Breast Imaging Center nearby on Whispering Pines Lane. They include support groups for patients and families, and she runs both.

Through the state’s Breast Cancer Early Detection Project pushed by the hospital, women who are affluent, those on Medi-Cal and those in between can all get mammograms for cheap or even free.

The Miners Clinic in Nevada City and the Chapa De Clinic in Grass Valley see to it that women without MediCal or private health insurance get a mammogram, Donnelly said. Primary care doctors are also aggressive about getting mammograms for their patients as well, Newsom said.

According to the study, the affluence of areas like Nevada County probably make a difference for breast cancer detection, because there is better access to education and treatment.

Beyond that, “we have a highly collaborative approach,” to cancer cases, Newsom said. Once a diagnosis comes in, “a tumor board,” of doctors, nurses, a dietitian and even a social worker meets to discuss various ways to deal with the situation.

“Everybody gets to review the case,” Newsom said. “It’s totally confidential, names are not used.”

After that, “knowing how to treat the cancer can be the simplest part of the process,” Newsom said. “Barriers to care can be a problem, like can they afford transportation to get there? It goes from the elevated to the mundane.”

“A big factor is we provide a continuity of care,” for breast cancer patients, Donnelly said. “I counsel them, I talk with their doctors.”

Donnelly said in the past, patients would walk out of a local facility with a breast cancer diagnosis “and not be told where to go. I’m a resource person for them before and after.

“Once all the medical attention is over, it’s a huge stress time for women and there are multiple questions,” Donnelly said. She steers them to support groups and people like Dr. Jeff Kane.

Kane is the director of psychosocial education at the Cancer Center who deals with, “the non-tumor aspect of cancer because cancer’s a hell of a lot more than a tumor.”

According to Kane, “when people have cancer what they suffer from isn’t their tumor, it’s their emotions – depression, anger, fear, anxiety.”

Kane gives breast cancer patients emotional support because upon getting the news, “they are absolutely devastated. We try to get them into a support group that same day.”

Support groups for women with breast cancer, their spouses and children all exist here and Kane said they are essential for patients. With them, “they can clear their mind because there’s a lot of choices,” with treatment and life after the diagnosis.

A diagnosis does not mean that a woman will probably have to have a breast removed like it did in year’s past, Newsom said. New procedures can remove a cancerous lump or deal with the lymph nodes that spread cancer without removing the entire node system.

Newsom said the risk for breast cancer gets greater as women get older. It is also higher for those who are overweight or whose families have a history of it. Men can get breast cancer, but women are one thousand times more likely to get it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, breast cancer is the most-feared disease for women but more die of heart disease or lung cancer. About 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in this country every year and about 40,000 die from it.

Newsom said the mortality rate is decreasing while the number of early detection’s is on the rise. Women checking themselves and getting mammograms are the reasons.

“A cancer diagnosis is always a shock,” Newsom said. “But a doctor can say the chances are excellent you can be cured because you felt that lump in your breast and you got that mammogram.”

In Nevada County, those chances are apparently very good.

Detecting breast cancer yourself

The American Cancer Society found out in 2003 that women detecting their own breast cancer did not have a better survival rate than others. However, it remains clear the earlier the detection, the better, and self examinations are a part of that.

The society now recommends women be more familiar with various changes in their breasts which could signal cancer. Breast self-examinations should be done about one week after the onset of a menstrual period, because the breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender then.

You should examine yourself in three ways, in front of a mirror, in the shower and while laying down. Look for lumps, breast tissue thickening, nipple discharge and changes in the nipple like retraction or dimpling.

For more on breast cancer, and breast self-exams, see http://www.mayoclinic.com.

Information from the Mayo Clinic Web site, http://www.mayo clinic.com

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