Breast cancer: A winnable battle


By Amber Reiss-Holt, MD
Special to The SUN

Amidst the sea of pink ribbons and people dusting off their running shoes to “race for the cure,” it is important to take a moment to reflect on where we stand in our battle against breast cancer in the world, the country and in the community of Pagosa Springs.

October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month by many organizations worldwide. Beyond reminding women to get their mammograms, I believe it is important to educate ourselves during this month so that we may better understand the enemy that is breast cancer.

To put things into perspective, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. This is an astounding and frightening number. The number becomes even scarier when we consider women and men who have breast cancer that runs in their families. Breast cancer is, in fact, the most common cancer that affects women. It is not, however, the greatest cause of death among women, nor is it even the greatest cause of cancer death among women, at least in the United States. Those distinctions belong to heart disease and lung cancer, respectively.

Unfortunately, when one looks at worldwide statistics, the greatest cause of death from cancer in women is breast cancer. The reason for this is thought to be the lack of access to good cancer treatment. This tells me that despite its pervasiveness in the world today, breast cancer is a very treatable disease most of the time. In fact, 85 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer in this country will be alive in five years. In many of these patients, cure is achieved and the cancer battle is won.

This is not to suggest that the journey that breast cancer patients find themselves on is easy, pleasant or straightforward. Even when the tiniest tumor is discovered, there is suddenly an overwhelming array of imaging tests (mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and bone scans, to name a few), biopsies, blood tests and appointments with specialists before a precise diagnosis is even made. After this, there is a whirlwind of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal treatment that may be necessary. A breast cancer patient often has to see a primary care provider, a radiologist, a medical cancer doctor, a radiation doctor, a genetic counselor, a cancer surgeon and a plastic surgeon from soma plastic surgery before all is said and done.

At Pagosa Springs Medical Center, we are building a program to provide many of the services that breast cancer patients need. For those specialized treatments that we may not be able to offer yet, we are dedicated to helping patients get appointments at other hospitals and cancer centers. Today, our medical center offers screening mammograms, ultrasound-guided biopsies, pathology services, genetic testing, surgical consultation, several surgical procedures and other lab and radiology testing. In the near future, we will be expanding radiology services to offer additional mammogram and ultrasound imaging. In addition, we will also be able to provide comprehensive surgical services for patients in need of this. Each patient’s cancer treatment plan is unique and we strive to provide the individual attention that is necessary. Our nurse navigator, Colleen Sullivan-Moore, offers education, collects results, makes appointments, checks on progress and serves as a support figure throughout the entire journey for each of our patients. As our program grows, our goal is to provide more of the services needed so that our patients can remain in our community as much as possible.

Let us pause this October to honor those currently battling breast cancer and to remember those who have died from this disease. We must continue to fight this enemy. With screening, early detection, up-to-date treatment techniques and continued research, this battle is surely winnable.