Breast Cancer Awareness Month highlights new screening options
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And in the spirit of breast cancer awareness, we sat down with Sonja O’Flynn, ARNP, a women’s health nurse practitioner and University of Phoenix instructor, to talk about recent improvements in breast cancer screening and diagnosis.
“I’ve worked as an OB/GYN nurse practitioner and childbirth educator, and I currently work with a senior population,” says O’Flynn. “In addition, I have instituted a women’s health program as a care provider for the Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program along with grants from the Florida Suncoast affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure®." O’Flynn also teaches community/public health nursing courses for University of Phoenix.
Via her extensive experience working in women’s health, nursing and public health in general, O’Flynn is familiar with the latest advances in breast cancer screening and detection. “With the use of the latest advanced digital mammographies/sonography and stereostatic biopsies, the ability to make decisive breast cancer diagnoses along with an individual-appropriate treatment plan is much improved,” says O’Flynn. “These new technologies have also greatly helped women who are uninsured/underinsured thanks to specialized grants and local community programs that help provide them.”
Some women still reluctant to get screened
However, despite these advances, multiple challenges and obstacles remain, according to O’Flynn. “I have been seeing a growing aggregate of women who are more than 50 years old who have never had a mammogram,” she says. “Unfortunately, there can be advanced breast cancer within this patient aggregate.”
With diagnostic and treatment advances better than they’ve ever been, why would women in the prime age/risk bracket for developing breast cancer avoid screening? The reasons are complex. “There is often a catch-22 with this demographic,” O'Flynn explains. “The education and knowledge about the risks of breast cancer are there, but in my opinion, there are women who are afraid to know anything is wrong with them. There are those who flat-out do not want to know, and there are those who are in complete denial — the ‘no, no, not me’ patients.”
Early detection is key
O’Flynn stresses that when it comes to surviving a breast cancer diagnosis, early detection is key. “I recommend that women continue to follow the advice of their health care providers regarding screening along with performing a monthly breast self exam (BSE),” she says. “Patients can and should engage with information about breast cancer online and via social media whenever possible. And as nurses, we can just continue to offer the best care we can for our patients.”