Time to think pink

Blair County is ready to think pink for the next several weeks.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and area hospitals are gearing up to spread the word to women across the region.

Some will be holding special events to spread awareness, while others will be taking advantage of the heightened profile to promote available treatment options.

Lannette Johnson, director of outreach at the Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Institute of Central Pennsylvania, said new developments in technology have lead to a much more positive outlook for many.

“It’s truly amazing what we can do with breast cancer patients,” she said.

The month also serves as a reminder for many women that their health is important, said Cathy Dillen, a clinical nurse specialist at UPMC Altoona with a certification in advance oncology.

“I think it is important to have a month to remind women to take care of themselves,” Dillen wrote in an email.

Promoting the cause

The Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Institute of Central Pennsylvania, located on the campus of Tyrone Hospital, will be hosting a number of events throughout the month to promote breast health. The institute recently moved into the hospital’s new wellness center, and a new digital mammography suite will soon be opening.

A “Mother Daughter Pink Ribbon Dinner” will be held on Oct. 15 at Epworth Manor’s personal care building, located at 925 S. Lincoln Ave.

Johnson said she will be among the speakers at the dinner and encouraged area women to bring their daughters along, as she will be presenting a program targeted to adolescents.

“No one’s talking to these young women about breast health,” Johnson said. “They may not be exposed to breast cancer, but what these young ladies are doing now to their bodies will affect them in the future.”

Dr. David Arbutina, the institute’s medical director, will also speak at the dinner. Seating is limited, so an RSVP is required, according to a release from the hospital.

The institute will also host an “international tea” on Oct. 27. Arbutina will also speak at that event, which costs $25 a person to attend. Three different teas will be served, according to a release from the hospital.

“Apparently, it’s growing in popularity to have these international teas for ladies, especially in October,” Johnson said.

UPMC Altoona’s CancerCenter sponsored the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, which was held on Saturday. About 85 employees participated in the walk, including radiation oncologist employees Debbie Semanchik, chief radiation therapist, and Karen Brady, office manager.

“Debbie is a breast cancer survivor who recently celebrated her 10th anniversary cancer-free,” Dave Cuzzolina, UPMC Altoona’s marketing and communications director, said in a statement.

The hospital also will run a mail campaign to promote awareness. Women who receive a mammogram this month will receive a pen and a calendar as a “thank you,” Cuzzolina said.

The Van Zandt VA Medical Center also will host an event this month for its patients. “Come Celebrate a Survivor” is an annual awareness program. Three women will share their stories, said Andrea Young, the VA hospital’s marketing affairs director.

The event will begin at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 18.

Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring will not host any events, said Heidi Kreider, the hospital’s marketing director, though they have recently gained digital mammography.

Easing fears

Pattie Angst, the radiology department director at Nason, said that she explains to patients that mammography, though not enjoyable, is so important to catching cancer.

“Mammography’s not a pleasant experience,” she said. “We try to explain to people it’s best for you. It spreads out the tissue, and there’s less radiation.”

Dr. Kelly Biggs, medical director of radiology at Tyrone Hospital, echoed the sentiment. He said the size of the hospital allows him to meet with each mammography patient beforehand.

He said he makes sure they’re aware that mammography is a great detection tool, but it’s not always perfect.

“This is not to scare them but just so they know this is just part of the process,” Biggs said.

The National Cancer Institute recommends that women over 40 have a screening mammogram every one to two years, according to its website.

An abnormal mammogram can occur for reasons besides cancer, Biggs said, including the machine lining up tissues to make them look abnormal.

“A callback is not a death sentence,” he said.

Biggs said there isn’t a lot of power behind the breast self-exam, but that a lot of women find cancers that way.

Arbutina said women know their own breasts best, and that a woman can have a normal mammogram and within a matter of months find a lump through a self-exam.

“A lot of women come in and say, ‘My breasts are so lumpy. I wouldn’t feel anything,'” he said. “Well, you know what your lumpiness is like and if something is different.”

Dillen said UPMC Altoona tries not to put too much pressure on women to perform self-exams, as they are often not aware of what is considered normal. That type of pressure can scare women off of exams altogether, she said.

“When we place so much importance on one style of [breast self-exam], women avoid examining their breasts due to fears of ‘doing it wrong,'” Dillen said.

Arbutina said statistics show that breast cancer has a high survival rate, and that information often soothes patients who were unaware of that fact.

“The most important thing is knowledge,” he said.

Arbutina said 60 percent of women who have breast cancers have what is called stage one, meaning it is contained in the breast. Stage one breast cancer has a 98.4 percent survival rate, he said.

“For all patients that walk through the door with breast cancer, the five-year survival rate is over 95 percent,” Arbutina said.

Staying healthy

Dillen said there are many ways for women to reduce the risk of developing breast cancers, including limiting alcohol intake, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

There are also some factors that are out of a woman’s control, she said, like genes, age and environmental exposure.

“I try to make them aware that there are many factors that place a woman at increased risk for breast cancer,” Dillen said, “and it is not the reduction of ‘any one’ risk factor that will ‘prevent’ breast cancer.”

She said women – both cancer survivors and those at risk – need to take time for themselves and to focus on their own health.

Dillen said women, who are often in a “caregiver” role, do not give themselves the attention they need.

“Breast cancer survivors must make time to rest, eat healthy and, yes, even engage in mild exercise if they are able to keep their bodies in good condition and so their treatments have the best chance to work,” Dillen said.

She added that it is important for women who are diagnosed to develop a support network. UPMC Altoona offers a monthly breast cancer support group at the hospital, she said.

Part of staying healthy includes setting oneself up for early detection, Angst said. Early detection can prevent more serious treatments and make recovery faster and easier.

“Early detection is so important,” Angst said. “They can do a lumpectomy now instead of a mastectomy, and some people have the lumpectomy and don’t even have to have radiation treatment.”

Arbutina emphasized that each patient is different, and the approach must be different, as well.

“We want to make sure they know everything about it before they make any choices,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.