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'My world stopped right there:' Local breast cancer survivor advocates for preventative mammograms

breast cancer screening
Posted at 5:48 PM, Oct 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-08 19:28:41-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Doctors are emphasizing the importance of preventative mammograms in light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The survival rate for the cancer is in the 90th percentile for patients who catch the disease early and have an otherwise healthy medical history.

“We screen women, traditionally, on a yearly basis starting at around 40,” Dr. Elizabeth Butler said. “If you are having any symptoms — if you have any lumps, bumps, nipple discharge, any abnormal redness, any itching, anything like that, that should make you wanna call either your OBGYN or primary care. Or sometimes, you can just call us over here at the breast center to get in for some imaging.”

Butler specializes in breast surgery at St. Luke's Hospital. She said lack of insurance or financial burdens can be barriers for patients, but preventative screenings can save lives. Doctors also worry that concerns over being in a hospital during a pandemic will hinder patients from coming in.

“This is actually some of the safest places, because we have high vaccination rates and we take all the precautions,” Butler said. “I’m honestly worried about some of my patients, where we’re going to be in two to three years if they miss these screenings.”

Katy Guzman, one of Butler’s breast cancer patients, said early detection saved her life. She was diagnosed in June of 2019 and was cancer free by September that year.

“I would rather have a mammogram that lasts for a minute every month of my life than ever have that feeling again when they call you and say, ‘You have cancer.’ I don't ever want that feeling again,” Guzman said.

Following her diagnosis, Guzman turned her life around by quitting smoking, drinking and losing 120 pounds.

“I want to watch my kids grow up. I wasn’t ready to die,” Guzman said. “‘Oh, you have an autoimmune disease,’ ‘Oh, you have cancer.’ What else do you need? What else do you need to change your life?”

In the darkest hour of her life, it was her silver lining.

“The cancer gave me a whole new lease on life. It gave me a whole new outlook,” Guzman said. “Because I don’t know if I ever would have gotten myself together.”

According to St. Luke’s Hospital, one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer. As of 2021, it is the most common type of cancer worldwide.

Fortunately with preventative steps, Guzman’s success story is a possibility for many others.

Butler said while you should not put off a yearly mammogram, hold off for a few weeks after being vaccinated for COVID-19. The vaccine can cause swollen lymph nodes, which is a similar symptom in cancer patients. This can lead to unnecessary concerns until doctors can ensure a clean MRI.

“You probably need to wait at least a couple weeks. Some of the current literature, and the ways that we are practicing now, say maybe up to about six weeks from the end of your second dose, before your boosters or anything like that,” Butler said.

If patients have been recently vaccinated, they can alert the doctor before beginning a mammogram screening. To avoid any concerns, patients can also get vaccinated after a mammogram.

For more information and resources on mammograms at St. Luke’s Hospital, you can head to their website.