As a little girl, I watched my baby sister struggle with a birth defect, endure countless surgeries, spend most of her life hospitalized and eventually succumb to her illness. By the age of 12, I had been exposed to the fragility of life, the unfairness of illness and the vulnerability of my family. It was this experience that influenced me to become a physician, so that I could help other families navigate similar paths.
I still remember the day, early in my practice, when I had to tell a 26-year-old pregnant patient in her third trimester that she had breast cancer. As a medical student, I had learned about anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. My professors taught me how to put on the white jacket as a shield against human vulnerability. With the coat on, you are taught you could get very close to frailty, even touch it, and you would not be pulled in. But in all those years, I didn’t have one class on how to tell a young mother-to-be that the lump she felt was a large aggressive breast cancer.
As breast imagers, we color the first interaction a woman has in her cancer journey. It is no small thing to be allowed into a woman’s life and the life of her family during this struggle.
I have been working at the Oklahoma Breast Care Center for almost 10 years and have seen breast imaging evolve rapidly. We have been on the cutting edge of technology, time after time, and are now the first in Oklahoma City to offer Breast Tomosynthesis – 3D mammography. Tomosynthesis virtually reconstructs the breast tissue into 1mm slices and holds the promise of diagnosing breast cancers more accurately and at a smaller size. I have already seen the call-back rate drop drastically, sparing women an agonizing wait. The Oklahoma Breast Care Center is fortunate to have 3D mammography. There are currently 8,000 breast cancer screening sites in the U.S., and fewer than 100 have this newest generation technology.
All women should get a mammogram once a year, beginning at the age of 40. If you are at high risk for breast cancer, have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer or have had radiation to the chest in the past, it is recommended that you begin annual screening earlier. It is startling that 60 percent of women in the U.S. are not abiding by this recommendation.
One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and yet breast cancers found early and at a small size have a survival rate of 97 percent. I look forward to a future where breast cancer no longer takes lives too soon.
As a young girl, I wanted to make a difference in patients’ lives, but did not understand then that they would make such a difference in mine.
Five Things to Know About Mammograms
1. They can save your life.
2. Don’t be afraid.
3. Get the best quality you can.
4. Mammography is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool.
5. An unusual result requiring further testing does not mean that you have breast cancer.
Dr. Paula Deupree, board-certified radiologist, has practiced at the Oklahoma Breast Care Center since 2003.