(WHTM) — In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, advocates and health professionals are reminding people regular screenings are crucial to finding and treating cancer early. One highly visible reminder: the fountain at the State Capitol is now pink.
“Not only is it pretty, it has a purpose,” Natalie Kopp, communications director for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, said.
abc27 looked into the state of breast cancer in the Midstate. Doctors said it is a bit of a mixed bag. Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic started, they have seen advances in care, but they have also seen setbacks.
“We heard that anywhere from 50 to 60 percent of women had missed their mammograms,” Kopp said.
Those missed mammograms can make a big difference. One example?
“Larger tumors that are identified in breast screening,” said Dr. Randall Oyer, executive medical director of Lancaster General Health’s cancer institute.
Oyer said during the pandemic, there were 36 percent fewer cases of breast cancer reported, and breast biopsies fell by 76 percent. Those numbers are actually cause for concern.
“The National Cancer Institute has actually predicted that we may lose some of the ground we’ve made in terms of reducing cancer deaths,” Oyer said.
WellSpan surgeon Dr. Jaime Slotkin has seen women delay screenings.
“I’ve seen women who come in and say, ‘Hey I feel this lump in my breast and it’s not new, I felt it a year ago,'” she said.
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Lumps are often benign. Oyer said many women have small breast lumps, and most of them do not turn out to be cancerous. However, regular screenings are still important, and mammograms are the most effective.
“A mammogram finds more than 85 percent of breast cancers,” SLotkin said.
Slotkin said better technology has developed over the years, which means earlier detection and often better outcomes. When caught early, the survival rate for breast cancer can be over 90 percent.
“We certainly find things well earlier often than you feel them,” Slotkin said.
With the effectiveness of mammograms, Oyer said the American Cancer Society has withdrawn their recommendation for regular breast self-exams. Still, both Oyer and Slotkin said if women do notice anything different, they should still talk to their doctor.
Another step forward for breast cancer care is that health systems have also worked to expand access. Wellspan has a Mobile Mammography Motorcoach to reach underserved communities.
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“We can help you where you are, and we can help with whatever your barrier is,” Slotkin said.
Oyer added, “What makes a difference is when you’re providing access to people who didn’t have it before.”
Both doctors and advocates have one central message for October — and the rest of the year.
“All the women in your life, tell them, don’t miss your mammogram,” Kopp said.
Doctors also said it is especially important to get regular screenings if people have a history of breast cancer in their family. In those cases, they recommend getting screenings before age 40, the age most women should begin getting yearly mammograms. They also recommend genetic testing to look for mutations that put people at higher risk.