Mansfield Opinion

Early detection key in breast cancer

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a scary and unfamiliar path. Fortunately, patients at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center have Lisa Smith, a breast cancer survivor and director of radiology, to help guide them through the challenges. Lisa says it is part of giving back to others as she shares her experiences with the patient, providing advice and emotional support. One in eight women will have invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. The stage at which breast cancer is detected influences a woman’s survival rate. If detected early, the five-year survival rate is now 98 percent. Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by scheduling a mammogram.

A mammogram, combined with a clinical breast exam, is the most effective way to find and treat breast cancer early. Women from 20 years of age into their 30s should have a doctor perform a clinical breast exam at least once every three years. The American Cancer Society recommends annual clinical exams and mammograms for women beginning at age 40.

Women who have a family history of breast cancer or other high-risk factors may need more frequent mammograms at a younger age. A doctor can assess and make a personalized recommendation when screenings should begin, how often they should occur and which techniques should be used.

A mammogram -- an X-ray of the breast -- is currently the best available screening method for early detection. The latest technology, digital mammography, uses less radiation than film mammography, and studies show it improves cancer detection in women under 50 and patients with dense breasts.

In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, can be another effective tool. Breast MRI is only recommended for screening if you have a very high risk for breast cancer. This includes women with a significant family history of breast or ovarian cancer (especially in first-degree relatives who were diagnosed before menopause), women with personal or close family history of breast cancer genes, or women with a history of radiation to the chest area. Currently, breast MRI is more commonly used as a diagnostic (versus screening) tool in certain women with an abnormal physical exam, mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy.

As a survivor, Lisa feels she is uniquely qualified to communicate and discuss all the issues surrounding cancer with both compassion and wisdom.

Lisa suggests that women become educated and empowered and learn the facts.

“Sometimes women are hesitant to have a mammogram because they fear the results,” she says. “But a mammogram could be a matter of life and death. Finding cancer early means a better chance of successful treatment. Be informed, know your risk for breast cancer and understand the risks and benefits of any test you undergo. This knowledge can help you feel empowered, because significant treatment options offer tremendous hope for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer.”

She also recommends asking your doctor the following questions:

1. Are you a specialist in my type of cancer? How many cases like mine have you treated in the last year? Some oncologists specialize in specific carcinomas such as breast sarcomas and blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. Doctors generally have better success treating a condition if they have a lot of experience with it. You’ll need to know if the physician is a specialist in your specific type of cancer.

2. Are you board certified, and how many years have you been in practice? Board certification and experience ensure the physician is a specialist in his or her field of expertise.

3. How can you be reached after hours? Is there always someone on call? Having a physician who is available after hours is vital to the patient’s well-being and safety, especially after a surgery and during chemotherapy sessions. An oncological emergency needs to be treated immediately and is sometimes a matter of life and death. The after-hours physician can assess the acuity of the patient’s needs and, if necessary, direct the patient to the emergency department and call in medical orders for intervention, which can save valuable time and lives.

Take an active role in your own health and develop a close relationship with your doctor. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better chance for a cure. Methodist Health System has joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network, a clinical collaboration between Methodist and Mayo Clinic that provides physicians at Methodist easy access to Mayo Clinic’s specialists, knowledge and expertise. For more information, visit

For more information on breast health or schedule a spa mammogram, visit

Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System.