Avera Medical Minute: Understanding breast cancer & how to lower your risk

Published: Oct. 23, 2023 at 10:20 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer.

One resource you can take advantage of is Avera’s High-Risk Breast Cancer Clinic.

This breast cancer awareness month, one woman shares how the clinic has made a difference in her life.

Breast cancer is something that hits close to home for Avera patient Teri Bergeleen. Both her grandma and aunt died from the disease.

“My grandma Twila, my mom’s mother, she passed away from breast cancer when I was four years old,” said Bergeleen. “My aunt Sharill, my mom’s sister, she’s like a second mom to my sisters and I, but she was diagnosed in 1992, and she fought cancer for 19 years and ultimately passed in 2011.”

That’s why breast cancer is something she also takes seriously when it comes to her health.

“With our family history, there’s just been sort of a thread of knowing we are at higher risk and that breast cancer is a part of our story, and when I started my 20s, going to my well woman checks, we started having those conversations about family history,” said Bergeleen.

After finding a lump in her breast in 2019, she was referred to the high-risk breast cancer clinic. After a breast biopsy it was determined to be benign.

“I was nervous, but I knew that whatever it was, I had a care team and people to follow and take care of me,” said Bergeleen.

The high-risk breast cancer clinic is a resource people can use to maintain breast health and know their risk when it comes to cancer.

“When a patient is referred to us, we look at the risk factors for breast cancer, and we put that information into a computerized risk model, and that risk model determines if they meet criteria to do additional surveillance based on their calculations, so anybody that calculates greater than 20 percent is considered at elevated risk,” said Traci Redmond, a nurse practitioner with Avera Medical Group.

Prevention tips are also something providers offer to keep their patients informed.

“We can’t take away the fact that they are female, they’re getting older, or family history, or genetic makeup, but can we help them reduce the risk by encouraging exercising and weight management and eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding smoking and avoiding alcohol, and all of those other environmental things that are linked to breast cancer,” said Redmond.

Redmond says the earlier breast cancer is found, the better.

“We have great screening tools for breast cancer, and very helpful to use them to find something early, if we catch a breast cancer at a stage zero or stage one diagnosis, it’s a much shorter treatment course for the person, but it’s more of a bump in the road, instead of a roadblock,” said Redmond.

Now Bergeleen continues to share her story to encourage others to understand their risk for breast cancer.

“Be open about having the conversation. I don’t think anyone with a family history should feel nervous about entering the high-risk breast clinic because it’s really a more proactive approach in your own health and how you can get people on your team. There are enough risk factors in the world — let’s try and take care of them by integrating with the technology here at the Avera Cancer Institute,” said Bergeleen.

It’s recommended for women to start mammograms at age 40, and to continue to do one each year. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should talk to your provider to see if you should utilize the high-risk breast clinic.

For more information on breast cancer and the high-risk breast cancer clinic, visit avera.org/medicalminute.