Local hospital staff discuss importance of breast cancer screening

Both Baptist Health Paducah and Mercy Health staff members recommend women ages 40 and older receive a mammogram every year.

A patient recently went to Baptist Health Paducah to receive her annual mammogram. The patient was originally scheduled to receive a screening mammogram, Baptist Health breast navigator Mindy Cartwright said, but then a breast technologist noticed dimpling on the patient’s breast, which the patient had not noticed.

What happened next, Cartwright said, may have saved the patient’s life. Baptist Health Paducah workers were able to conduct a diagnostic mammogram and breast ultrasound on the patient, where the ultrasound found something suspicious. A biopsy was conducted, and pathology reports found that some of the patient’s breast cells were malignant, or cancerous.

Cartwright shared this story to get an important message out: get your annual mammogram. For this patient, getting her appointment changed on site from a screening mammogram, for people at low risk for breast cancer, to a diagnostic mammogram, for people who are experiencing possible symptoms of breast cancer, could have a long-lasting impact.

“Because she also got that ultrasound, with it being a diagnostic [mammogram], they were able to see this area, and it pretty much saved her life,” Cartwright said.

Both Baptist Health Paducah and Mercy Health stressed to The Sun the importance of women getting their annual mammograms. Being a female, Cartwright said, puts a person at higher risk of developing breast cancer at some point in their life.

According to the CDC, breast cancer was the most diagnosed cancer in women across the nation in 2018, and the second deadliest form of cancer behind lung cancer.

Mercy Health director of imaging John Jacobs said it is recommended that women ages 40 and older receive a mammogram every year. Some women who are at a higher risk, like women who have a family history of breast cancer, may need to speak with a health care provider to determine when they should start getting annual mammograms.

Both Mercy Health-Lourdes and Baptist Health Paducah offer genetic testing to patients, especially those considered high-risk. Genetic testing can look to see if a patient carries the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which would make the patient more likely to develop breast cancer at some point in their life.

Michael Tutor, executive director of imaging at Baptist Health Paducah, said the hospital conducts about 10,000 mammograms every year. Jacobs said Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital conducts about 500 screenings per month.

Jacobs said Mercy Health typically conducts breast ultrasounds for younger women as opposed to mammograms. He said this was because younger women can typically have denser tissue, and dense tissue can be harder to see on a mammogram.

Both hospitals saw a dip in appointments for a few months during 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and there were some concerns within the medical community that later-stage cancer diagnosis rates would rise because of some patients not being able to get an appointment with hospitals focusing on emergencies at the time, Tutor said.

Tutor said mammogram appointments have been back to pre-pandemic numbers for a few months now. Jacobs said appointments are up about 30% over 2020 at Mercy Health.

One move Jacobs helped with at Mercy Health was calling patients who were overdue for a mammogram or breast ultrasound. He said staff at the hospital reached out to about 300 to 400 patients in a month who had not had a breast exam in at least one year.

“The longer that you wait, the higher risk that you’re going to come to. Finding these [cancers] in the early stages are always going to give you a better diagnosis and a better recovery rate,” Jacobs said.

One thing Cartwright recommended was that if people are scheduling mammograms after receiving their second or third COVID-19 vaccine dose, they should wait six to eight weeks before getting a screening mammogram. She said in some cases, the vaccine doses could temporarily enlarge lymph nodes, and radiologists have seen some cases where lymph nodes in the breast have been enlarged. If patients are experiencing a possible breast cancer symptom, they can still come in anytime after receiving a COVID vaccine dose.

Both hospitals are accepting appointments for those who want to schedule a mammogram or breast ultrasound, and officials said they have policies in place to help keep patients feel safe and comfortable inside a hospital setting.

Follow Hannah Saad on Twitter, @ByHannahSaad or on Facebook at facebook.com/hannahsaadpaducahsun.

Follow Hannah Saad on Twitter, @ByHannahSaad or on Facebook at facebook.com/hannahsaadpaducahsun.

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