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Early detection is key when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer


Pink flags and ribbons can be seen all over town during October but breast cancer is something that women need to be vigilant about year-round.

According to the American Cancer Society, women have a 1-in-8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. However, the Susan G. Komen organization also reports that when the cancer is detected early at a localized stage, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.

"The earlier we find a breast cancer, the wider the options are that the patient has to treat it with, not to mention the fact that she's a much lower stage," said Dr. Debra Koivunen, medical director of the Ellis Fischel Breast Cancer Clinic.

She said women should begin getting mammograms once a year at age 40, with women at high risk starting earlier. She said mammograms are able to identify breast cancer long before it can ever be seen or felt.

"The (women) I worry about are the ones who don't get screening studies, don't do self-exams, and then they show up months later after finding a lump because they were scared to come in and find out about it," Koivunen said.

If women tend to forget to get an annual mammogram or are putting it off, Koivunen said it can be helpful to tie mammograms to special dates such as a birthday or holidays to help a woman remember to get screened.

MU Health Care also has a Mobile Mammography Van that travels across the state. Koivunen said the van is out of order, but hopes to have it up and running again soon.

One local organization, Pink Pursuit, raises money for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and helps those in need afford mammograms, including on the Mobile Mammography Van.

Executive director Liz Schulte started Pink Pursuit in 2010. She said she's had multiple family members fight the disease and wanted to make sure funds were going to local organizations and patients.

"I just think that early detection is the key," Schulte said.

Schulte said since its beginning, the organization has raised almost $750,000.

She said her mission is to destroy the stigma that "breast" is a bad word.

Women should be vigilant in their self-exams and screenings, Schulte said.

"Being comfortable checking yourself in the shower, whether you're male or female," Schulte said. "Or after your shower, laying down on the bed, making sure that everything is consistent and normal."

Koivunen said if women are comfortable with their bodies, they can do a self-breast exam once a month. She said doctors at Ellis Fischel can teach women how to do that productively.

Schulte said Pink Pursuit has also recently begun donating to help with genome testing, which is when a tumor is tested to determine which kind of treatment may work best.

The organization's annual event, Pink Pursuit, it's NOT so Trivial, will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 14 in Downtown Columbia. It consists of a trivia crawl at local restaurants.

High-risk factors for women include a strong history of breast cancer on either side of the family or prior breast biopsies that show certain cellular changes, Koivunen said. She said doctors can put information into a computer system, such as family history, the age at which a woman had children and the age at which she had her first period and/or when she began menopause, to determine if a woman is high risk.

Tune in to ABC 17 News at 6:30 on Thursdays in October for more breast cancer awareness month coverage.

Article Topic Follows: Health
breast cancer
breast cancer awareness month
cancer center

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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