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When it comes to breast health, you are your own best advocate

Every October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my colleagues and I stress the importance of screenings. Regular mammograms are important. They give you your best chance at detecting breast cancer early — and the best fighting chance against it.

But what if something seems “off” and your next mammogram isn’t scheduled for a while?

That’s when you need to call your care team. It’s your body and no one knows it better than you do. If something doesn’t feel right during a self-exam, you learn that a family member has breast cancer — or had it in the past — or you just have questions that you’d like to have answered, don’t hesitate to call.

If you’ve been thinking about putting off regular mammograms due to concerns about COVID-19, Geisinger is offering free 15-minute telephone consultations with clinicians from our breast health teams, including our breast surgeons, high-risk providers and genetics team. The screenings are on Saturday, Oct. 17, open to anyone age 18 or older who’s concerned about their breast health and highly recommended for anyone with a family history of breast cancer.

If breast cancer runs in your family, you might also consider asking your health provider about having genetic testing done. Not all people who test positive for an abnormal gene associated with breast cancer will get breast cancer, but if markers are found, our genetics team can help you set up additional screenings as well as suggesting lifestyle changes that could keep the disease from ever developing. Definitely good information to have.

If you need cancer care, Geisinger is here to support you with a multidisciplinary team of specialists that may include a combination of oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, geneticists, integrative medicine providers and behavioral health counselors — depending on your unique needs. And when it comes to breast surgery, we keep your wishes and needs in mind and offer an array of services including surgery with hidden scars, techniques to keep a natural breast shape, breast reconstruction, clinical trials, innovative approaches to pain management and more.

Once treatments are over, cancer survivors get the support they need. Geisinger’s Cancer Survivorship Program coordinates care between your primary care provider and your cancer team. You can take advantage of behavioral and nutritional counseling and a range of complementary therapies such as yoga, Reiki, mindfulness and massage. Support groups meet regularly, because many survivors find that sharing their experiences with others who’ve been through it too can be an important step in healing mind, body and soul.

With breast cancer occurring in an estimated 1 in 8 women, it’s common to know or be related to someone faced with this unfortunate disease. The good news is you don’t have to face it alone.

And since early detection and treatment are the keys to better health, be your own best advocate. If you’ve got a question about breast cancer, don’t hesitate to ask. Whether it’s October or any other month of the year. My colleagues and I will be here for you if you need us.

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Dr. Cottrell is a general surgeon at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.

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