With this month’s focus on Breast Cancer Awareness, it’s important to remember that early detection most often translates directly to easier treatment, faster recovery and a reduced risk of recurrence.
At Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., efforts are under way to improve the way the disease is diagnosed and treated and how patients are cared for along the way.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to make surgery less frightening to women and to make their care better,” said Majd Aburabia, MD, an Oakwood-affiliated surgeon and breast care specialist.
Forms of treatment and diagnosis have evolved through the years procedures are less invasive than ever, she said, beginning with a relatively new technique called seed breast localization that can make the process easier on the patient and physician alike. Oakwood was among the first health systems in the Detroit metro area to perform the procedure, according to Aburabia. It involves placing tiny radioactive ‘seeds’ near the suspected tissue to guide the surgeon to the potentially malignant growth. Previously, a wire was inserted the day of the surgery.
“Once the wire is placed, the patient can’t get out of bed; they have to stay still until the surgery,” she said. “With the new procedure, the seeds can be implanted days ahead of the surgery; it makes the surgery day shorter. It’s a lot more comfortable, and it allows the surgeon more flexibility.”
The seeds emit a tiny amount of radiation that does not threaten the patient’s health, Dr. Aburabia said. “It does not affect her; it does not affect people around her,” she explained. “It’s a very small amount. It’s safe and secure and we take it out at the time of surgery.”
Surgery is one option for patients diagnosed with breast cancer, but not necessarily the only one. Advances in diagnostic testing as well as treatment have provided a wealth of options for care, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ care plan, Dr. Aburabia said.
“Women have more choices,” she said. “Treatment today is more individualized. What’s right for one woman may not be right for another. Every woman with breast cancer gets an individualized plan.”
The many types of treatments can make decisions difficult, which is why Oakwood has taken steps to help patients along their journey. The health system now employs nurse navigators to work with patients and physicians to development the best course of action, should any positive diagnosis occur.
Oakwood has also recently hired Ann Edwards, a nurse practitioner with a long history of working with women diagnosed with breast cancer—and teaching nurses who will work with cancer patients—to help women through their health journey, as well.
“We try to make the process as comfortable as possible,” Dr. Aburabia said. “We give them as much information as we can and help them make the best decisions for themselves.”
As with any type of cancer, the key to successful outcome is early detection. Dr. Aburabia recommends women get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 if they have no family history of the disease, and earlier if their close relatives have been diagnosed with cancer. An early detection often means less treatment is needed, which results in fewer side effects, better odds of survival and faster recovery times. As many as 90 percent of women who are initially diagnosed with breast cancer have reported no signs of the disease five years after a successful treatment.
“The goal is to catch it early, before you can feel it,” Dr. Aburabia stated, “and that is what regular mammograms do. They save lives.”