Check-Ups are key to early cancer detection

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Every October, folks start thinking pink. Everyone from NFL linebackers to kindergarten teachers dons rosy-hued clothing and donates money to cancer research and treatment charities. And yet each year in America, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and about 40,000 women die each year from the disease. While we don’t yet have a silver bullet to destroy this disease, medical experts agree that early detection remains the best way to give yourself a fighting chance.

This is the message that 18-year cancer survivor Thomasina Brown stresses at her annual cancer awareness luncheon, held each October for the past sixteen years. Guests enjoy a free meal and register for prizes, but the most important takeaway is the potentially life-saving information provided by her guest speakers.

Luncheon host Thomasina Brown

Registered nurses Tracey O’Neal (a nurse navigator) and Ginny Edwards (breast imaging specialist) of McLeod Health returned to share their personal stories and insights about cancer detection, treatment, and recovery.

O’Neal sees about 350 breast cancer patients diagnosed every year at McLeod. She talked about the importance of getting a yearly mammogram and following up with your doctor every year for a clinical exam.

“Women over age 40 especially need to get that yearly mammogram,” said O’Neal. “And if you feel anything different in your body, during your self breast exam each month, let your doctor know and get a work-up.”

McLeod Health nurse navigator Tracey O’Neal

Edwards, a cancer survivor of over 8 years, spoke about her own fight against invasive Stage 3 breast cancer.

“I’m just blessed to still be here after eight and a half years,” said Edwards.

Both nurses urged women to get regular mammograms to catch cancer early and improve chances for a full recovery. With modern advances in technology, a mammogram can pinpoint cancers as small as Stage Zero ductal carcinoma before it spreads into surrouding tissue. If testing catches pre-cancerous cells before they invade the surrounding breast tissue, the prognosis for full recovery is much greater, which means that early detection remains the best weapon in the fight against breast cancer.

Edwards noted that most calcifications and lumps in the breast are not cancerous, and that about 80 percent of these lumps are benign But the only way to be certain is to get tested.

McLeod Health is making it easier to get mammograms by using a mobile testing lab to conduct doctor-approved tests on site at schools and places of business. This mobile lab is available by appointment. For scheduling and reservations, call 843-777-2095.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation says that while most breast cancer diagnoses are in women, the disease also strikes men. Most people who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease, but shared lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, alcohol use, etc.) or inherited genetic mutations may increase your risks.

“If you have a first degree relative, like a mother or sister or daughter, who has had breast cancer, you need to be especially vigilant,” said O’Neal.
Current research indicates that only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations. Taking birth control pills also slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

Doctors recommend several steps to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer:
Maintain a healthy weight
Add exercise into your routine
Limit alcohol intake
Limit menopausal hormone use
Breastfeed, if you can

To learn more, visit or call 1-877-465-6636

Guest speaker Chinel Boateng of the American Cancer Society shared information about the annual Darlington County Relay For Life event, which brings together cancer survivors and their caregivers for a celebration of survival and support. The Relay will celebrate its 25th Anniversary next year, and this reunion-style event will take place at Hartsville’s Kelleytown Stadium on May 11 from 1 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Boateng also presented each guest who has survived cancer with a medal, recognizing their struggle against this deadly disease and lauding their courage to keep fighting.

Author: Rachel Howell

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