My colleagues, healthcare specialists at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Mission Health, Sheri Fleeman, M.D., co-director of breast imaging, and Heather Mann, PA-C, Breast Imaging Physician Assistant, have talked about the importance of yearly breast cancer screenings, and how finding cancer at an early stage is the best way to ensure a positive outcome.

Breast cancer care is my calling in life. As a surgeon, I enjoy being able to provide the best care possible to the women of Western North Carolina. I enjoy the relationships I get to develop with my patients as we face this challenge together as a team.

I would encourage every woman to be sure to get her mammogram every year. This is the best tool we have to make sure we catch problems as early as possible.

Breast Cancer Staging

I’d like to discuss breast cancer staging and explore the system that documents how far cancer has spread.

There are many factors that go into breast cancer staging, but the higher the stage, the further the spread.

With better screening, it is possible to achieve better outcomes treating patients at lower stages.

Unfortunately, there has been an increase in women presenting later during the pandemic. This is largely due to the concern patients have in going to get a mammogram. When screenings are put off or cancelled, we unfortunately have seen patients presenting at a later stage.

If a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer there are a variety of treatment options at Mission Cancer. Depending on the specific diagnosis, Mission offers partial mastectomy (or lumpectomy), total mastectomy, skin sparing mastectomy with reconstruction, as well as nipple sparing mastectomy with reconstruction.

At Mission, we treat patients with a team of clinicians working together to determine the best course of care for each individual patient to assure the best possible outcome.

If the disease requires a mastectomy, there are implant-based reconstruction options, as well as reconstruction using the patient’s own tissue.

Reconstruction surgery can be done immediately after a mastectomy, giving patients only a single experience under anesthesia.

The care and treatment of breast cancer is always evolving.

As a field, the healthcare professionals at Mission continue to move to less invasive techniques in hopes of salvaging patients’ natural breast tissue. We are less aggressive in our axillary surgery, resulting in patients with less life-long arm swelling or lymphodema.

On average, women have a 1:8 risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

Currently, it is recommended that patients get a yearly mammograms to screen for this average risk. For women with a higher risk because of family history or genetic disorders, we offer a high-risk clinic where we see patients and screen them at a more frequent rate. Again, this is to help us detect problems at the earliest possible stage.

Cameron Coker, M.D., is a breast surgical oncologist with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Mission Health. For more information, call 828-213-9729.

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