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Daily Journal
     October 13, 2020      #64-287 KDJ

Value of prevention work can't be measured“

Mike Frey

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

But the vital work done by Riverside Healthcare Breast Health Navigator Allison Heil and the team she works with is more valuable than the most weighty amount of gold, and there is no price you can put on the amount of satisfaction she gets from performing her duties.

Those duties include promoting preventative efforts while also helping women diagnosed with breast cancer navigate the often bumpy road to recovery. While the process can involve some challenging moments, the challenge proves worthwhile when Heil encounters a survivor she worked with previously.

“I wonder if they will remember me,” she said. “But months later, when I go to the grocery store or they come back for their yearly checkups, I’ll see them and they will tell me how appreciative they are.”

Of course, Heil and others would rather see these patients avoid the agonizing experience of a cancer diagnosis altogether, or if detected, the recognition comes early enough that it’s highly treatable.

Riverside endorses the recommendation from the American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology that all women ages 40 and above schedule an annual mammogram. She also endorses the idea they have the procedure performed at Riverside, where The Genius 3D Mammography exam is offered. It’s the only method approved by the FDA as superior to standard 2D mammography. Its advantages include:

• A 41 percent increase in the detection of invasive breast cancers;

• A 29 percent increase in the detection of all breast cancers;

• A 15 percent decrease in women recalled for additional imaging and testing

Heil explains the greatest advantage in this way:

“What the 3-D does is make a play-by-play, moving image so the doctor can see it in much greater detail. It’s finding cancers at a much smaller stage, where it is 2 to 3 milligrams rather than 2 to 3 centimeters.”

This earlier detection is crucial to improving survival rates.

“Five-year survival rates are 100 percent,” she said.

The ordeal of battling cancer can be emotionally and physically draining, as Heil knows personally. She worked in Riverside’s Mammography Department for 10 years before becoming breast health navigator about four years ago.

“I heard a doctor say it’s more of an emotional emergency than a medical emergency,” she said.

She assists the patients in dealing with these emotions while also helping them deal with the demands of added doctor visits, whether they be with radiologists, pathologists, surgeons or oncologists. Through this proverbial rollercoaster ride, Heil emphasizes one constant.

“I stress patience,” she said.

An upbeat attitude doesn’t hurt either.

“When they come in with that positive mindset, they’re more tolerant of what the timeframe for treatment is.”

The “it can’t happen to me” approach is not something Heil endorses. Women will avoid mammograms for various reasons, one of which is they believe it can’t affect them because there is no history of it within their families. Heil offers a strong word of caution for those who think this way.

“Seventy-five percent of cancers diagnosed do not have family history,” she said.

At Riverside, it’s rather easy to get a prompt mammogram examination. Its campuses at Kankakee, Bourbonnais and Coal City often have next-day appointments available. To schedule an appointment, call 815-935-7531, or book directly through MyChart.

The importance of a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle has been embraced by experts as a way to combat breast cancer as well as other forms of cancer, and Riverside Healthcare Breast Health Navigator agrees with the assessment.

"Lead a healthy lifestyle as much as you can,'' she said. "Just the factor of being female and aging makes for a higher risk factor.''

Here are some tips offered by the Mayo Clinic:

• Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to less than one drink a day, as even small amounts increase risk.

• Don't smoke. Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.

• Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.

• Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps prevent breast cancer. Most healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.

• Breast-feed. Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.

• Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you're taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You might be able to manage your symptoms with nonhormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your doctor monitor the length of time you're taking hormones.

• Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation. While more studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and cumulative exposure to radiation over your lifetime. Reduce your exposure by having such tests only when absolutely necessary.

• Follow a healthy diet. Eating healthy might decrease your risk of some types of cancer, as well as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. For example, women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses on mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter and eat fish instead of red meat.

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