By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
A diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating. Killeen resident Henevelyn Smith knows that firsthand.
"At first, I couldn't believe it because I'd been having a mammogram every year and it always came out negative," said Smith, 80.
After further testing, she said, "They told me, 'Ms. Smith, the type of cancer that you have usually comes back on the other breast after awhile."
Smith, who had cancer in her family before, wasn't taking any chances, she said.
"I said, 'OK, I'll beat that. We'll just go and do double mastectomy," she recalled.
That was seven years ago. Smith is now healthy and wants to share her story of survival with other area women during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Early detection is key, she said. To women who suspect a tumor in their breast, she said, "Please, go and get it checked. The earlier you get there, the better it is."
Breast cancer remains a pervasive health issue. In 2010, 207,090 women will be diagnosed with and 39,840 women will die of breast cancer, according to National Cancer Institute estimates. Area women may be heartened to know of several local developments in the fight against the disease, however.
In Temple, the Scott & White Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Clinic has earned a three-year full accreditation designation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, administered by the American College of Surgeons.
The Breast Cancer Clinic at Scott & White is one of only five in Texas to achieve the accreditation, which was based on leadership, management, research, community outreach, professional education and ongoing improvement standards. The clinic will be reassessed every three years by the program.
What this means for patients, according to Dr. Christopher Ruud, clinic director, is a constant standard of excellence. The clinic team, composed of oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, genetics specialists and patient support specialists, among others, has functioned according to program guidelines for many years, he said, but now it has a formal rubric with which to compare its operations.
"Each doctor will talk to the patient because each one of us has a slightly different specialty," said Ruud, a medical oncologist. "I think what we hope a patient will feel is that there's a group of people that care and are out there working for them."
At Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, patients can now receive mammograms more easily than ever before, thanks to a new technology called Hologic Selenia 2D Digital mammography.
Mammogram appointments can now take as little as 15 minutes, said Dr. Maj. Billy Wade Mahaney, chief of radiology and officer in charge of mammography.
"Now, as soon as we shoot the image, it pops up on our screen and we can determine if it's a quality image and move on, to either the next image or the exam will be complete," he said. "It is slightly quicker, so patients are uncomfortable for less time,"
Digital images are also more convenient for the Army lifestyle.
"The images are more transportable between health care facilities," said Mahaney. "We used to make copies of films and they were poor quality."
In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, patients who have mammograms at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in October will also receive a special Breast Cancer Awareness goodie bag, while supplies last.
At the Sue Mayborn Women's Center at Metroplex Adventist Hospital in Killeen and Rollins Brook Community Hospital in Lampasas, women without insurance or who are underinsured may take advantage of a $149 digital mammography special this month. The diagnostic service usually costs $300 or more, according to spokesperson Desirae Franco.
A woman with insurance who can't afford the copay is also eligible for the special, she said.
According to the American Cancer Society, women without increased risk factors for breast cancer should begin getting annual mammograms at age 40. Women in their 20s and 30s should receive a clinical breast exam every three years, and self-examine their breasts on a regular basis, reporting any changes to their health care provider.
Of course, the best treatment for breast cancer is never to get it. According to Ruud, exercise may play a large role in prevention.
In one study, said Ruud, American nurses who exercised 150 minutes or more each week were half as likely to experience a relapse of breast cancer than their counterparts who exercised 60 minutes or less each week. This strongly suggests that exercise may play a role in preventing the disease in the first place, he said.
Similar studies involving healthy eating as the variable were not as compelling, he said.
"The suggestion is that the most important thing is exercise, rather than eating less, he said."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.