GONZALES — It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the usual hues of pink have been unfurled to mark the occasion. The staff at the Gonzales Healthcare Systems Mammography Department want you to know that they are there for women to get their annual breast exam.
“It stays steady,” says Kristy Garcia, R.T. on the matter of patients that they see in their lab. She is joined by Kasey Spahn. They are the duo that will take care of you upon your visit.
They use the latest in technology in breast screening procedures. Their machine is more delicate than most and offers 2-D and 3-D imaging in order to detect the slightest abnormality in breast tissue. Garcia explains that usually is not necessary to begin annual screenings until women hit 40 unless they have a family history of breast cancer.
“We don't routinely screen patients at 30 unless there was a strong family history of breast cancer where their first degree relative was diagnosed at an early age, so it's recommended 10 years prior to their cancer diagnosis to come in for their screenings,” she said.
Her first screening was at 30 since her mother had been diagnosed at age 41. That early diagnosis is the main reason why women should always pay attention to their bodies and schedule an appointment if anything seems unordinary, even at a younger age than most.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women regardless of race or ethnicity. It is the most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women and the second most common among white, black, and Native American women.
In 2015, the latest year for which incidence data are available, 242,476 new cases of female breast cancer was reported in the country and 41,523 died because of it. In Texas, there were 16,136 cases reported, or 112.2 cases in 100,000.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States with one in four deaths occurring due to cancer. But if caught early, the rate of survival after treatment is relatively high.
In the lab, Garcia explains the process a woman goes through in an examination.
“What we do is take two views of the breast, and the patient comes into the machine and the compression paddle will actually come down and compress the breast tissue,” she said. “We don't do instant smashes, so it's not instant pancake time. We come down slow with the compression and gradually build up where we need to be. The patient will hold their breath, the top part of the machine will move.”
Screening and diagnostics are carried out on all patients. Results are often available within a week, if not faster. It's as easy as calling the clinic and making an appointment. But you must have a primary care physician available to read the report once it is ready.
And insurance should not be a barrier in receiving a screening, as Spahn points out.
“Patients that don't have insurance think that they can't have a mammogram, but there are programs out there, like the one that we have here,” she explains. “Our cheerleaders here in town raise money that goes to patients that can't afford a mammogram.”
Behind the mammography machine is a “Wall of Cheer” that lists the names of the young ladies that have raised money and donated to the fund.
To set up an appointment, call Gonzales Healthcare Systems at 830-672-8499.