Early Detection Is Critical In Fight Against Breast Cancer

Photo by Scott McCloskey
Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department registered nurse Maggie Sall displays several brochures regarding breast cancer awareness that the department can provide to clients.

Photo by Scott McCloskey Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department registered nurse Maggie Sall displays several brochures regarding breast cancer awareness that the department can provide to clients.

WHEELING — Early detection is critical when it comes to the fight against breast cancer, according to local and national health care officials.

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department registered nurse Becky Beckett said early detection means everything.

“We always tell women don’t be afraid of finding cancer — be afraid of finding breast cancer late,” Beckett said.

“Studies have shown that women don’t get screened because they are afraid of what they’re going to find and we are trying to get people to realize that if you find it early, it’s treatable, it’s curable, you go on with your life — but if you don’t find it early it can be life-threatening because it has time to spread to your vital organs.”

Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. Getting regular screening tests is extremely important and the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.

Women with breast cancer many times have no symptoms, and while some risk factors are uncontrollable — such as family history and aging — developing good habits with diet and exercise can reduce the chances of a diagnosis.

Being overweight or obese, drinking alcohol and not being physically active are a few factors that put people at a higher risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In addition, women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a higher breast cancer risk overall and most studies have found that women using birth control pills have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them.

Beckett said depending on their age, women should perform monthly breast self examinations at home and schedule an annual breast examination with their doctor or health care provider.

Beckett said the health department works with the West Virginia Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening program, which recommends regular screening at age 50.

But if a woman displays something abnormal on a clinical breast exam or has higher risk factors, the health department can send her for a diagnostic mammogram as young as 35.

While the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is not a licensed primary care center, Beckett said the department does offer a women’s breast and cervical cancer screening program in conjunction with the state health department if they fall under the program guidelines.

Some of those guidelines include:

∫ Must be between the ages of 25-63;

∫ Must not have insurance that would cover screening services; and

∫ Must be a resident of West Virginia.

Beckett said the health department sets aside one afternoon each week as they contract a provider to come in and perform the physical exams.

“So if someone calls for an appointment, we would give them the next available appointment time. … We actually schedule people weekly,” Beckett said.

The health department also can provide women pamphlets on the topic of prevention and early detection of breast cancer and give them a card that serves as a monthly reminder to do their self examinations.

Maggie Sall, a registered nurse at the health department, said for women who fall under the West Virginia Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening Program guidelines, there are state programs that provide the funding for those who require a breast biopsy or need surgery and the proper follow-up medical treatment.