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Sanford oncologist provides Q&A for women on the importance of mammograms

Dr. Allison Watson works with patients both at Sanford Worthington and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

WORTHINGTON — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — a time when women are reminded to either get their first mammogram or schedule their annual mammogram.

Dr. Allison Watson, an oncologist with the Sanford network, said women have local access to the same services that can be found at Sanford centers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, through the Sanford Health Cancer Center in Worthington .

Watson provided the following responses during an interview last week:

What types of screenings are available at Sanford Worthington to detect breast cancer?

“The types of screening for breast cancer that are available in Worthington include things like mammograms, which are important in women ages 40 or higher. All of the typical breast cancer screenings that we recommend for women of appropriate age are available in Worthington.”

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Who should receive a breast cancer screening and how often?

“The current guidelines suggest all women of average risk should have breast cancer screenings, including an annual mammogram, beginning at the age of 40. Women who have an increased risk, like those who have a significant family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, should have their first screening mammogram 10 years before their youngest family member was diagnosed. So, if a woman’s mother was diagnosed at the age of 40, then her daughter should be screened at the age of 30.

“If a woman’s mother was diagnosed at age 35, 10 years before that would be age 25, and those patients between the ages of 25 and 30 we actually don’t do mammograms. We recommend a breast MRI just because the density of breast tissue (makes it) difficult to interpret in younger women.

“Another increased risk factor for women is if they have had chest wall radiation between the ages of 10 and 30. If they had a prior diagnosis of cancer that required chest radiation between the ages of 10 and 30, those women should have an early cancer screening as well, generally after the age of 25 or within eight years of the radiation.”

How important are breast cancer screenings?

“It’s important for all women over the age of 25 to have some sense of breast awareness — knowing what is normal to them and to be able to recognize when something is abnormal. That’s important for all women, especially as we approach the age of 40. It’s not common to diagnose breast cancer around that age, but it is caught on mammograms.

“The only way we have to screen for breast cancer right now is by mammogram. It’s important for every woman at the age of 40 or later to start doing their annual mammogram. If we catch breast cancer early, we can offer the hope of a cure, whereas if we catch it when it has spread beyond the breast to the lymph nodes or other organs, we may not be able to offer the hope for a cure.

“Mammograms are routinely available in most clinics, they are easy to get done, they’re not invasive and you only need it once a year. It’s a really low-risk procedure to have done once a year.”

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Why are breast cancer screenings encouraged at age 40?

“Breast cancer, when caught early, is treated either with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. If it’s caught late and spread to other organs, then it’s not considered curable, but it’s certainly treatable. It’s very much better to catch it early because treatments are shorter and don’t have to be given indefinitely.”

Is there a difference in care for patients in Sioux Falls vs. Worthington?

“The Worthington clinic is staffed by oncologists that come from Sioux Falls, and it’s not just for breast cancer — we have a fully functional cancer center that’s fully staffed with a nurse practitioner, nursing staff and infusion staff.

“All of the treatments that we offer in Sioux Falls, in terms of chemotherapy and radiation, we can do in Worthington. That includes imaging like mammograms and CT scans. There’s very little that we have to refer patients from Worthington to Sioux Falls for.”

“It has been really beneficial for our population not only for Worthington but for those in smaller towns much closer to Worthington. We do have excellent resources in Worthington and I think it’s a great resource for a lot of our patients from smaller towns.”

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