Mind & Body

What Every Woman Should KnowNational Breast Cancer Awareness Month Is Intended to Increase Early Detection and Save Lives

By Christy Kearney

October brings cooler weather, the beginnings of another holiday season, and an entire month to focus on the issue of breast cancer awareness.

While there are many factors – among them age, race, family history, late menopause and hormonal replacement therapy – that put women at higher risk, the truth is that breast cancer can strike any woman, regardless of whether she has any risk factors. In fact, among all American women diagnosed with breast cancer, 76 percent had no risk factors at the time of their diagnosis. For this reason, every woman is urged to engage in regular screening, as outlined by the American Cancer Society.

According to that organization, “Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic health exam by a health professional, preferably every three years. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women at high risk should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.”

Startling statistics from the American Cancer Society remind women why regular screenings are essential. Every three minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States – and every 12 minutes, a woman dies of the disease. Because breast cancer is the leading cause of death among American women ages 35 to 54, and the second leading cause of cancer-related death for women of all ages, women should educate themselves on the warning signs and early-detection screening options.

For women on the Emerald Coast, the Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast provides state-of-the-art screening and diagnostic services, as well as personalized guidance from Patient Care Navigator Kristi Roark. The center is equipped with digital mammography, MRI breast coil and ultrasound capabilities. For more-comprehensive testing, the center offers on-site biopsies guided either by mammography or ultrasound images.

“Mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer,” Roark said. “It is not the only tool and it is not 100 percent, but it is the best screening tool.”

Digital mammography, available at both Sacred Heart and Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, allows for a quicker and more precise screening.

Always looking ahead, Sacred Heart has provided digital mammography since the hospital opened four years ago. Roark sings the praises of the new technology.

“Digital is the way to go,” she said. “I use the comparison that it is kind of like a 35-millimeter and a digital camera. You take a picture with your 35-millimeter, you take it to Walgreens and you get what you get. With your digital camera, you can zoom, you can change the light, you can do everything, and you can manipulate the image.

 “It’s a lot faster because you don’t have to go process the film,” Roark said. “We’re able to see more patients, and patients don’t have to wait as long for their results.”

Women with symptoms such as a lump, general swelling, skin irritation, a rash, dimpling, nipple pain or retraction, or discharge are urged make an appointment with their physician for a referral to the diagnostic center. Women without a regular physician can call the center and Roark will put them in touch with a physician for a referral.

“They came in the door knowing they had a problem,” Roark said. “We don’t want them going out the door not knowing what’s wrong or what we plan on doing. We try to streamline the process. You can come here, have your mammogram, discuss your results with the radiologist and be set up for a biopsy at that point in time.”

 Roark’s role is to reduce patient anxiety by walking each woman through the process, from screening and diagnostics to treatment and recovery if necessary.

“I tell them, ‘If you want to talk, to cry, just call me,’” she said. “‘I’m here every day. Here’s my office. Here’s my cell phone number. Call me.’” 




Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast:
(850) 278-3980, sacredheartemerald.org

Fort Walton Beach Medical Center:
(850) 863-7551, fwbmc.com

American Cancer Society:
(800) ACS-2345 (800-227-2345), cancer.org

National Cancer Institute:
(800) 4-CANCER (800-422-6237), cancer.gov

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: nbcam.com

Susan G. Komen for the Cure:
(800) IMAWARE (800-462-9273), komen.org