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December 17th, 2019

Northwest Indiana Breast Care Center introduces new high-risk assessment program

Courtesy of NWI Life

Written by Julia Demma

So many variables, including family history, are part of determining the risk of having breast cancer, and trying to navigate them all on your own can be complicated. Thanks to a program at the Northwest Indiana Breast Care Center at Methodist Hospitals, physicians have been able to dig a little deeper to determine whether a woman is at high risk for breast cancer.

The Northwest Indiana Breast Care Center at Methodist Hospitals opened the new High-Risk Breast Clinic in April 2018. The clinic incorporates a new assessment tool, the high-risk breast assessment, to help determine a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.

“Now, we go into much greater detail regarding a patient’s genetic history. A typical Mammogram at the Center will take about a half-hour. First, there’s a 7-8-minute questionnaire done through a software program. From there, based on the results, we will recommend a breast MRI and genetic testing and counseling,” said Jennifer Sanders, Manager of the Center.

Since opening, the Center has identified more than 1,000 women as being at high risk for breast cancer. After these women continue with the high-risk program, the Center was able to find three cancers through the use of screening MRI, which is recommended after a patient is identified as high risk.

“Not many rural areas have this high-risk program in place so when women come from those far away communities we are able to offer the same services as we do women who live locally, so it’s pretty phenomenal that we are able to offer this at the Center,” Sanders said.

Sanders still touts breast self-examination and yearly screening mammograms, of course, but she does highly recommend the high-risk program for better accuracy.

“Once a woman is determined high risk, we may then recommend a mammogram and then six months later an MRI is done making sure they are being screened more than once a  year. It’s pretty extensive, but when you’re a high-risk patient, once a year is not enough. Being able to catch cancer in its early stages is extremely important,” Sanders said. “That’s what Methodist is here for. We’re in it to save lives.”

Sanders also stressed that she has seen a dip in the age range of high-risk patients in the past few years.

“We’ve had women as young as 20 who come in to get a lump checked out, and they end up being identified as high risk. It’s important to realize this shift in the perceived norm, and it’s our job to treat them accordingly,” she said.

Because of this shift, Methodist Hospital has upped its presence in the community, offering many educational outreach programs to local churches and high schools, and sending four to five mammogram reminder letters per year, and more if needed.

“These women are not too young to be affected by breast cancer. It may be happening to their family members, and with the recent dip in age range, it may happen to them,” Sanders said. “We’re all about educating women, teaching prevention methods, and offering support.”

Professionals at the Northwest Indiana Breast Care Center provide guidance through a woman’s entire plan of care.

“We’re here to guide our patients. We will do everything in our power to relieve stress and relax patients when they visit us,” Sanders said. “We need to get rid of the ‘this can’t happen to me’ mentality, and the staff at the Center is willing to do everything we can to educate and guide our patients throughout the entire process whether it’s just a monthly checkup, yearly mammogram, or the new high-risk assessment program.”

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