Monica Rocco

Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. One in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime; many times this will be a friend, teacher, neighbor or relative.

I still get asked the question regularly, when should I get my first mammogram? It is important to realize that most (60%) patients, who get breast cancer, have no family history. So using risk factors such as family history alone can be problematic. Mammography is still the gold standard screening test for breast cancer. They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25-30% or more. Do not be afraid. Mammography is a fast procedure, and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe — there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram.

Most of us who treat breast cancer patients realize that we should be looking at not only decreasing the death rate, but how earlier diagnosis can prevent less aggressive treatment options by finding smaller tumors. A smaller tumor might allow a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, which is often a great relief to the patient, especially if she is 40 years old. Sometimes finding a smaller tumor might mean that no chemotherapy is indicated, and not only is the patient happy, but it doesn’t subject them to side effects and saves thousands of health care dollars.

The recommendations for women are the following:

• Begin self-breast exams in your 20s and report any changes to your physician. The best time to do your exam is one week after you start your period, as this is when the breast should be the least lumpy (under the least amount of hormonal influence). Women know their breasts better than anyone else and should be able to at least seek medical advice as to whether the lump is worrisome.

• Get a clinical breast exam by health professional such as physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant at least once a year. Screening mammography beginning at age 40, unless there is a family history, and then the recommendation is for mammography to start 10 years before the youngest relative was diagnosed with breast cancer (if mother was diagnosed at age 45, then mammography should start at age 35).

All the physicians in our community who treat breast cancer agree that mammography saves lives and will continue to follow these guidelines. If you have any questions or would like more information on breast cancer screening, please contact our dedicated oncology trained nurse navigator at 805-346-3405.

All of us at Marian Cancer Care and Mission Hope Cancer Center would like to honor all mothers, daughters, sisters and any women interested in wellness by inviting them to attend our annual Mother’s Day Tea which will be held on Thursday, May 9, from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Marian Regional Medical Center Conference Room B.

This year’s popular tea will include information and discussion of current women’s wellness issues. Dr. Monica Rocco will lead the discussion about women wellness. Our second presenter, Jerry Sanger, MA, will talk about the “Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Brains.” Specifically, he will talk about the brains of men and women, how they differ and ways they are similar. He will discuss how understanding of the differences, as well as similarities, may help to strengthen our relationships. It is healthy to challenge our beliefs so that we may modify those ideas that are ineffective and embrace those that work!

Please contact Marian Cancer Care at the Mission Hope Cancer Center to make reservations for this event or for any questions at 805-219-HOPE (4673). Coffee, tea and breakfast will be served. We look forward to seeing you on May 9.

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Dr. Monica Rocco is board certified General Surgeon who has devoted her surgical practice to caring for patients with breast disease and providing diagnosis and care before, during and after surgery. Dr. Rocco has been recognized for her work in breast preservation surgery and has expertise in genetics, and can perform gene testing for hereditary cancers including: breast, ovarian, colorectal and melanoma.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org