MURRAY — When he talks about the journey from breast cancer diagnosis through recovery, Dr. Brett Parkinson can't help but feel emotional for his patients.
The growing number of women surviving the frightening disease, he said, is his "greatest joy."
"This is one area of medicine where people do get better and they flourish," said Parkinson, a radiologist and medical director at the Breast Care Center at Intermountain Medical Center. In order to recover, however, "the cancers need to be found," he said.
Parkinson, along with Dr. Teresa Reading, a surgeon specialist at Intermountain's LDS Hospital, will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline, where they will take questions about breast cancer. From 10 a.m. until noon, individuals may call 800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page.
Parkinson said he suggests that every woman, regardless of family history, be screened on an annual basis after age 40. Widespread institution of screening mammography, he said, has led to a 30 percent decrease in the death rate from breast cancer over the past 20 years.
Despite a marked increase in life expectancy, women in Utah are still not showing up for tests. The state ranks second to last, tied with Wyoming, and only topped by Idaho in the number of women age 40 or older, with insurance coverage for routine mammograms, who forego the screening procedure.
About 63 percent in Utah have had one in the past two years, Parkinson said.
A 2009 statement by the United States Preventive Services Task Force created controversy over the efficacy of breast cancer screening measures, resulting in nationwide confusion regarding various procedures, including self breast examination, clinical exams, mammography, digital mammography and breast MRIs.
Parkinson said the statement, which led to a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in the number of screenings being done at some facilities, was based on a review of flawed research and has since been countered by various organizations, including the American Cancer Society and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius, who recently said mammograms are "key to early detection."
An Intermountain study, conducted locally, found the top reason women avoid mammograms is because they don't believe they are at risk to develop breast cancer. Parkinson calls the idea "a deadly assumption."
"All women are at risk," he said, adding that 80 percent to 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
"I think the message gets lost that women are at risk simply by virtue of being female," Parkinson said.
One in eight women who live to age 90 will develop breast cancer, he said. The risk is greater among women who already have it in their family, but early detection can lead to better outcomes.
Time and a fear of the unknown or for the procedures themselves are also reasons women claimed to put off getting a mammogram.
"We need to dispel the notion that not knowing is OK," Parkinson said.
But the trend is turning. He said the Breast Care Center has screened more women this year than ever before.
"The best tool for identifying breast cancer is digital screening mammography," Parkinson said.
For some women, other fine-tuned procedures may be necessary, he said, but mammography picks up 90 percent of the abnormal cells in a woman's breast.
Intermountain's team of physicians from various disciplines then works together, conferencing weekly to discuss individual cases, to help patients determine the best course of action to overcome whatever cancer is found.
Parkinson said "most women survive their cancer." He added that life-saving measures can't be taken, however, if screening isn't done to detect the cancer in the first place.
"Women need to be screened," he said. "It's the only way we can find cancers."
Saturday: A look at advancements in breast cancer surgery and other treatments
The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on breast cancer. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Brett Parkinson, a radiologist at Intermountain Medical Center's Breast Care Center, and Dr. Teresa Reading, a surgeon specializing in breast cancer at Intermountain Healthcare's LDS Hospital, will answer questions. Call 800-925-8177 during that time. Those interested can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.
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