October 18, 2013

Early detection key to breast cancer elimination

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


It's hard to find someone who hasn't been touched by cancer. Across the world every country has been forced to come face-to-face with this terrible disease and its multitude of incarnations. Early detection is regarded almost universally as the best weapon against this horrific villain. People like Grady Memorial Hospital Mammographer Coordinator Dana McElroy  are leading the charge of early detection against breast cancer. 

She said Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings an increase in appointments in her office, which she is happy to receive. 

"It creates awareness and makes women more conscious that they need to get mammograms once a year, and if it has been two or three years, it brings the issue to their attention, because sometimes people just forget and we catch cancer so much quicker if they have mammograms every year," she said. 

Women should have mammograms at least once a year after age 40, according to McElroy.

"Women should have their first mammogram at age 35," said McElroy. "If a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she can come in 10 years earlier for her first exam with a prescription from her doctor." 

Self exams are also crucially important, said McElroy. 

Although they do not detract from the importance of regular mammograms, she said cancer can be caught quicker when a woman simply examines her breasts. 

"I think every woman needs to do breast self exams every month because a lot of times they can find those lumps before a mammogram would," she said. 

With improved technology and increased awareness, breast cancer fatality rates have dropped significantly over the last two decades. A recent report  from the American Cancer Society found death rates from breast cancer in the United States dropped 34 percent since 1990. 

McElroy said this is not a reason to take breast cancer any less serious. 

"We don't want women to let their guard down because of recent improvements," she said. "Things can still change dramatically over the course of 12 months and I have seen cancers that are no bigger than a pencil dot on a mammogram."

McElroy said concerns patients had regarding discomfort during a mammogram have been addressed as well. She said new pads have been placed on the machine, which makes the procedure more comfortable. 

"Those women who were afraid of getting hurt won't have to be any more," she said. 

McElroy said women can schedule their appointments with Grady Memorial Hospital by calling 405-779-2810 and many times can get in that day. She is also available to teach private and group classes on how to properly perform self exams.