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Patti’s story: Catching breast cancer early

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Detect cancer early with high-risk breast cancer program

Patti Behrens has a significant family history of breast cancer.

As a woman in her 50s, she had always been diligent about getting her annual mammograms but once she heard about Aurora BayCare Medical Center’s High-Risk Breast Cancer Program, she decided she could do more.

“I knew I was at higher risk just because of my family,” Patti says. “I came into the program, and they recommended I get a baseline MRI.”

The MRI discovered a small mass that had gone undetected with Patti’s mammogram. The mass turned out to be cancerous.

“It’s scary,” Patti says, “It’s always been in the back of my mind, but nothing can prepare you for news like that. It was comforting to know we caught it so early.”

“Patti’s case was unique,” says Dr. Natalie Luehmann, fellowship trained breast surgeon with Aurora BayCare General & Vascular Surgery. “She was getting an MRI screening for breast cancer, due to her family history, which is a different imaging test that can sometimes see more than a traditional mammogram.”

The MRI caught the cancer early before it spread throughout her breast and her body.

Because her cancer was caught early, Patti had many more options for surgery, and she was able to avoid aggressive treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, Luehmann says.

“They caught it very early,” Patti says. “I had a mastectomy done, but no radiation or chemotherapy. I feel very very lucky.”

Family history plays a role in breast cancer risk

“Family history can have a strong impact on your chance of getting breast cancer,” Luehmann says. “Anyone with a strong family history of breast cancer should be seen earlier or be evaluated as part of the High-Risk Breast Cancer Program.”

Since launching, the High-Risk Breast Cancer Program at Aurora BayCare Medical Center has screened more than 1,500 patients with a family history to help determine their risk category for developing breast cancer. The risk category determines the level of services, if any, that are needed.

Collaborative interventions may include supplemental screening MRIs, genetic testing, and risk reducing medications as well as healthy lifestyle counseling, smoking cessation, or medical weight loss referral, when appropriate, Luehmann says.

If you or someone you know has a family history of breast cancer or has been identified as being at a greater risk for developing breast cancer, call Kristin Cherney, high-risk breast cancer program coordinator, at 920-288-8261 or email her at kcherney@baycare.net.

Today, Patti is cancer free.

According to Dr. Luehmann, her prognosis is excellent, but she will continue to be monitored regularly.

“We will be keeping a close eye on her, but for now she can live her life normally and get back to enjoying her time with her family and friends,” Luehmann says.

Patti, who has 16 grandchildren is excited about that.

“It feels wonderful, it’s just great to know it was caught early and I hopefully have plenty of years with them,” she says.

Published: Monday, October 24, 2022
Author: Alysha Schertz