Breast cancer clinic helps woman at high-risk stay protected

After her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Janet Fowler began to take the necessary precautions to protect herself.

 

In 2015, she enrolled in Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s high-risk breast cancer program. One year later, Fowler was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Last January, I went in for my annual mammogram, like I always did,” Fowler said. “In addition to the mammogram, I also get an MRI of my breasts as an added safeguard through the high-risk breast cancer program. There’s a strong history of breast cancer in my family.”

Fowler’s sister and mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as her grandmother, before she passed away.

For most women, an annual mammogram and breast examinations may be adequate to ensure early detection for breast cancer. However, for women at high risk because of family or personal history, a more comprehensive early detection program is needed.

Although her mammogram was normal, Fowler’s MRI results were not. In February 2016, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as stage zero breast cancer.

“Ductal carcinoma in situ is a non-invasive breast cancer where abnormal cells are located in one or more of the breast ducts, but have not yet penetrated through the wall of the duct into surrounding tissue,” said Cody Gunn, MD, breast surgeon at Piedmont Athens Regional.

After working with Gunn, who began the high-risk breast cancer program with Heather Wheatley, a nurse practitioner who specializes in breast care at Piedmont Athens Regional, Fowler decided a mastectomy with reconstruction was her best course of action to reduce her risk of developing cancer again in the future and completed her surgery.

“Dr. Gunn also checked my lymph nodes during my surgery to make sure there was no sign that the cancer had spread,” said Fowler. “Thankfully it had not, and I didn’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation treatment.”

Instead, Fowler regularly receives hormone therapy treatments, which stop the growth of cancerous cells. She’s also planning to have a mastectomy on her other breast in the near future.

“I’m followed by a wonderful oncologist every three months and continue to be followed through the high-risk program. I also continue to go in for my annual mammogram and MRI,” Fowler said. “I hope that my story encourages others to seek care, if they believe they may be high risk for breast cancer.”

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 253,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2017. Survival rates continue to increase due to early detection, increased awareness and improved treatment options.

Today, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

For more information on Piedmont Athens Regional’s high-risk breast cancer program or to schedule an appointment, visit piedmont.org or call (706) 549-5554.

 

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