By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
For those facing breast cancer, the Clinton area has opportunities for local treatment. However, area healthcare professionals agree the best treatment is early detection.
“The real key is finding it early. Because breast cancers that can be found early usually require less treatment and are more effectively treated,” Mercy Radiation Oncology Center Resource Nurse Beth Wirth said. “So the chance of cure is much better if we find them early.”
Health professionals recommend that women have annual clinical exams and mammograms. They are also encouraged to conduct self exams and be aware of any changes.
“If you catch the cancer early, it’s so much easier to treat it and have a good outcome,” said Dona Bark, a registered nurse with Genesis VNA and the coordinator of the Care for Yourself program.
The Care for Yourself program is funded through the Iowa Department of Health to provide funding sources for Clinton and Jackson county women to receive annual mammograms and annual clinical exams. Women can sign up with Bark if they need help paying for these services. She can be contacted at 244-4925 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. She said this funding can be used for most area providers.
Each year, the program finds an average of three women with breast cancer out of approximately 250 to 300 women screened, according to Bark. Wirth said one in every eight women in the nation have breast cancer sometime in their life. Approximately one in 1,000 men will have breast cancer.
Bark encourages women to check themselves often so they know what to look for during a self exam. She also wanted people to know they need to check from the collar bone to the armpit area. She said most people know to look for lumps. However, they need to also be aware if their breasts look unusual. Some signs is if the area is pulled back and looks like a balloon that is low in air. They should also be aware if there is persistant redness or soreness. Physicians will look for these same signs during a clinical exam.
“It’s good to have a healthcare provider that knows you well enough that when there’s a change, they recognize that change,” Wirth said.
Mark Dion, a physician at Mercy Radiation Oncology Center and a clinical assistant professor of the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine, also advises that people be aware of their family histories. Breast cancer can sometimes have genetic factors.
“Now, just because somebody in your family has had breast cancer doesn’t mean you’re going to get it because it’s such a common disease that lots and lots of families have it because it just works out that way,” Dion said.
However, if a person has three or four close female relatives who have had breast cancer, Dion suggests that she makes sure to have her annual exams and mammograms. Such people can also have genetic testing done to see if they carry the gene.
Once a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, area agencies can provide treatment. Physicians and Medical Associates provide surgeries, such as lumpectomies and mastectomies. After the cancer is removed, Medical Associates also offers chemotherapy treatments. Once these steps are done, the Mercy Radiation Oncology Center provides radiation treatment. This center has served area patients since 2005. Mercy Medical Center staff said they are happy to work so well with Medical Associates to provide complete treatment for patients.
Dion and his staff will look at a patient’s history and see how large the cancer is, where it is located and if it is the lymphnodes yet. They make sure it has not spread and design a treatment plan.
The center recently acquired a Phillips Brilliance CT machine. Dosimetrist Darla Olson feels this new CT offers better service for their patients. It takes images and imports them into a treatment plan. Dion said the scanner allows them to build a three-dimensional reconstruction of the person and put radiation beams there and see where to put the doses. Once the plan is developed, it is reviewed by the University of Iowa Physics staff.
The center also has new carbon fiber breast board. Olson said these boards are much more comfortable for the patients and help them get in the exact same position each day.
For the staff at the center, their patient’s comfort is very important. They agreed that they have the privilege of taking care of the patients when they are very vulnerable and they want to make the process as easy as possible.
The treatment of each spot lasts for 30 seconds. Wirth said they can provide the total treatment in 15 minutes. She added that this means their whole day is not disrupted. Many of their patients even continue to work during this time.
“They usually just want to be a normal person like they would before their cancer diagnosis. They don’t want to be that person with cancer. They just want to be that person, what they normally do every day and a normal routine and just continue to maintain whatever normalcy that is,” Olson said.