Millions across the world recently celebrated International Women’s Day. This day commemorates women’s achievements and acknowledges challenges we still face. It’s also an opportunity for us to talk about women’s health.
One disease in particular is synonymous with women’s health: breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting 1 in 8 and it’s responsible for 26% of all cancers in women.
And while these numbers are disturbing enough, there’s cause for even greater concern when we look at the numbers broken down by age . Breast cancer accounts for 25% of ALL new cancer diagnoses in women aged 30-49.
The Impact of Breast Cancer
Dr. Andrea Miller is St. Joseph’s Director of Breast Imaging. She addressed the crowd at Bloor West Cares, a fundraising event for St. Joe’s on January 29.
“When I was doing my medical training 20 years ago, the teaching at the time was that breast cancer was a disease of older women. It was felt to be quite rare in women under 40,” says Dr. Miller. “While breast cancer is a disease that affects women of all ages, there is a disproportionate impact on younger women.”
She painted the picture of one of her younger patients. Dr. Miller recently saw a 34 year-old woman who came in with a lump in her breast. She had felt the lump for a number of months but dismissed it as many young healthy women would do. It was only after the lump continued to grow that she thought she should see her doctor. Her doctor reassured her that it was likely a cyst or a benign growth but agreed she should have a breast ultrasound just to be safe.
Dr. Miller described meeting with the patient. “When I met her in our department she was a bright, bubbly, charismatic young woman. She went so far as to apologize to us for worrying over something that was ‘probably nothing’. Our ultrasound that day showed a very aggressive breast mass. It was cancer. This young woman’s life changed in an instant. She sat and cried with me explaining that she didn’t know how she was ever going to be able to tell her parents.”
What Younger Women Can Do
Research on mammography in women under 50 is still ongoing. Still, there are steps that younger women can take to monitor their breast health. Rethink Breast Cancer advises knowing how your breasts look and feel so that you can better detect any abnormalities, and discuss changes with your doctor.
St. Joe’s Offers a Unique Service
St. Joe’s is a designated Ontario Breast Screening Program site. This means that women between the ages of 50-74 can get a screening mammogram at St. Joe’s without a doctor’s referral. Call St. Joe’s at 416-530-6010 to make an appointment
A New Model of Care
St. Joe’s will open the Geoffrey H. Wood Foundation Centre of Excellence in Breast Cancer Screening and Treatment in 2020. In the new centre women can be screened, diagnosed, and receive a treatment plan (if they need one), in one location, in as little as one day.
“Right now, most women wait between 6 – 9 weeks from the time of the screening mammogram until the time she sees a surgeon and gets a treatment plan,” says Dr. Miller. “My patients tell me time and time again, it’s the waiting that’s the hardest.”
The integrated approach to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer will be a model for cancer care in Ontario. “This is really about Patient Centered Care, and we are proud to be offering this new model of care at St. Joe’s,” says Dr. Miller. “This is YOUR breast centre, and by supporting St. Joe’s you can make a real difference in the lives of women with breast cancer.”
You can support breast cancer care by making a donation today. Click here, call us a 416-530-6704 or drop by our Donations Office on the main floor of the Health Centre. You can even make a gift to honour a physician, nurse or team by naming them to the St. Joe’s Circle.
Written by Nicole Landsiedel with files from Dr. Andrea Miller.