One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but the American Cancer Society says there was a large drop in cancer screenings at the onset of the pandemic. Now, New York Oncology Hematology Physician Dr. Ami Negandhi says she’s seeing an increase in diagnoses as women reschedule those delayed appointments.
“I’ve seen lots and lots of women who come to see me who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the women who have put off mammograms have regretted it. So there’s nothing worse than saying, ‘I wish I did this,’ and could’ve either had an earlier stage diagnosis where she needed less treatment, had more curable disease," said Dr. Negandhi.
Women should typically start getting an annual mammogram by the age of 40. Dr. Negandhi says if you have a family history, you should start 10 years earlier than the age of your youngest family member diagnosed with breast cancer. And there are important risk factors you should consider, like ancestry, weight and alcohol consumption.
“You want to know your family heritage, so you want to know if you have an Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry – because we know that those women are at increased risk for breast cancer. You want to know if anybody in your family – aunts, grandmother – had breast cancer, because that can impact your risk. We know that being overweight, and obese also can impact a risk of breast cancer,” says Negandhi.
Keep in mind, mammograms can miss 10% of breast cancer, so frequent breast exams are also necessary.
“To look for any nipple retraction, any dimpling in the skin of the breast, any nipple discharge – you want to bring to your healthcare provider,” says Negandhi.
For many women, fear of getting bad news keeps them away from the doctor’s office. To Life — a Delmar based breast cancer support services non-profit — is an organization that specializes in helping women who just received a diagnosis, or are in treatment.
The non-profit helps women make informed healthcare decisions after a diagnosis. They offer an extensive range in services to make navigating that challenging time a little easier, like their wig boutique – run by a licensed stylist who can address hair texture, style, and color – to get the perfect fit for you while you’re going through treatment.
“When you’re going through treatment you lose a lot of control. When you come in here, you get to take a little control back and you get to feel a little more like yourself,” says To Life’s Wig Fitter Alice Dunican.
Connie Bannigan is To Life’s certified mastectomy fitter.
“As far as being newly diagnosed with a cancer diagnosis, that is extremely hard. And then you have to put on what they have to go through. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and then a body image change,” said Bannigan.
She helps women find prosthesis and bras to feel a little more like themselves.
“When they look in the mirror for the first time, they start crying or just start smiling,” says Bannigan.
If you’ve just been diagnosed, in treatment, or post-treatment and are in need of support services – you can visit tolife.org for more information.
To Life is once again hosting their “Pink Mile Challenge” this October to raise money for the important programs and services they provide to women across the Capital Region. It’s a virtual 5K race you can run at any time this month. To register, click here.