Hospitals in northwest Harris County offers breast cancer screening and treatment options
Hospitals are providing more screening and treatments for patients to fight against breast cancer in northwest Houston and Harris County.
The first step to help combat breast cancer is getting annual screenings, which are recommended for women, starting at 40.
“The patient may or may not feel a lump on their breast. It can show up as complications on a mammogram or it can show up as distortion. That is typically how we notice something’s abnormal on a mammogram,” said Dr. Ainel Sewell, a radiologist at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.
While self-examinations are not recommended, Sewell said that women 40 or older should note any changes in their breasts, such as the contour, pain or discharge, she said.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in women as one in eight are diagnosed nationally.
While the hospital offers 2D mammography, Sewell said she recommends patients have the 3D mammogram, which offers a more detailed view of the breast tissue.
Other screening methods include ultrasounds or MRI, which are typically used after a patient has been diagnosed with cancer to help doctors determine the extent of the cancer and help guide the type of removal if surgery is needed.
“MRI is the most sensitive of all the tests. As you can imagine, it is expensive, and we can’t use it for screening purposes for the general population,” Sewell said.
MRIs are mainly used for women with a family history of breast cancer or who have genetic mutations that make them predisposed to having the disease.
Sewell said that while more options are available, more women should follow through with the recommended health screenings.
“I think what would make my job easier is if everyone would show up for their mammograms over the age of 40 every single year. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all,” she said.
Previously, while a mastectomy tended to be performed on a patient, now preserving the tissue is a common technique, said Dr. Ali Mazloom, a radiation oncologist at the Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center.
“Many years ago, the main way they did treatment for breast cancer was essentially a pretty involved radical mastectomy. Part of it is the disfiguration of the body with that surgery,” he said.
If caught at an early stage, a lumpectomy would be performed to remove cancerous tissue without the complete removal of the breast and can be followed by radiation to destroy the remaining cancer cells.
One new advance in treatment is intracavitary brachytherapy, where radiation treatment is delivered to into the patient’s breast tissue after a surgery to remove the cancer.
“What this allows is for the patient to have less toxicity from treatment. The combination of these advanced surgeries and radiation therapy allow patients to have very good cosmetic outcomes,” Mazloom said.
While surgery tends to be the first treatment option for many patients who are diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer, stage 4 cancer is treated differently, said Dr. Anna Belcheva, an oncologist at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.
Instead, as more awareness is made of breast cancer, Belcheva said many of the patients she has seen have tended to be at stage 1 or 2.
“In stage 4, we typically don’t perform surgery if the cancer has spread outside of the breast. We treat them with systemic treatments, which means oral or IV treatments because we’re trying to treat the whole body, not just the breast. For those patients, there are so many treatment options nowadays that we have managed to turn that into a chronic illness rather than a death sentence.,” Belcheva said.
Aside from providing patients with screenings and treatment, the Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital also gives patients the option to participate in clinical trials, she said.
One advantage for patients is not having to travel to the Texas Medical Center.
“We actually bring the research coordinators that have the clinical trials open on campus and offer the treatment to be given here so that the patients don’t have to drive far from home,” Belcheva said.