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Avera Medical Minute: Importance of screenings during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Breast cancer affects about 12 percent of the population.

That’s about 1 in 8 women.

Chances are, most of us know someone who has been impacted.

“I actually found out on the phone that I had cancer, I distinctly remember that day and it was a moment of him telling me that I had cancer and I think everything else went silent,” said Melissa Carter, a breast cancer survivor and Avera Health patient.

A lump Melissa felt during a self-administered breast exam in 2018 turned out to be cancer. Breast cancer.

She was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive carcinoma.

With no family history of breast cancer, and being young and healthy, the initial diagnosis came as a shock.

But Melissa was ready to fight.

“I had this sense of peace, even from the beginning that everything was going to be fine. It was just a matter of, ‘Okay, what’s the next step? Where are we going? What do I have to do? Let’s just get the cancer out of my body,” said Carter.

Melissa’s cancer care was in the hands of the team at Avera Health.

“It’s an entire team approach. so it’s not just the surgeons, it’s the pathologists, it’s the radiologists, the medical oncologist helping us making those decisions, the radiation doctors if they’re involved, the plastic surgeons if they’re involved, so there’s this whole team that takes care of these patients,” said Dr. Tricia Merrigan MD, FACS, a breast surgeon with Avera Medical Group.

Dr. Merrigan knows how scary a diagnosis like the one Melissa received can be.

“Cancer is a very scary word. Anyone diagnosed with cancer, the first thing they think of is chemotherapy, and, ‘Am I going to die?’ Those are very common questions that I get,” said Dr. Merrigan.

There is no routine treatment plan for someone with breast cancer.

While chemotherapy may be suitable for some patients, it may not be as beneficial for others.

That’s why the team at Avera creates a unique road map and treatment plan for each patient based on their unique tumor biology.

“Knowledge is power,” said Dr. Merrigan. “So giving them that information as to why we’re making those treatment decisions, what we expect with tumor response, a lot of that just gives them the reassurance that this is something that is treatable, is curable, and what that treatment plan is really helps them feel more comfortable.”

For Melissa, her treatment plan included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, six surgeries, radiation, and now, 10 years of estrogen inhibitors and checkups every 6 months.

Her prognosis is good, and she says she’s grateful for the car she received at Avera.

Her goal now is to make sure other women stay on top of their breast health with regular screenings and self exams.

That’s a message echoed by the team at Avera Health.

“Screening. You want to catch cancers early. The majority of breast cancer patients do very, very well. And it really boils down to tumor biology. So the sooner you can catch the cancer, then the better patients can do,” said Dr. Merrigan.

For more information about screenings and breast cancer awareness month visit Avera.org/MedicalMinute.

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