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Partnership helps those fighting breast cancer


October 11, 2017 | View PDF

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Mammograms are an important tool in the fight against breast cancer and women should speak with their doctors about what its best for them in regard to getting them.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which is intended to increase awareness about breast cancer, its diagnosis, treatment and recovery programs.

There are a number of local resources available for those getting a breast cancer screening or for patients going through a diagnosis.

The Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in north Everett is a collaborative effort from many local healthcare organizations to provide services and research.

Marilyn Birchman, regional director of cancer services and research at Providence's cancer center said there is not a "blanket answer" for when women should start getting mammograms.

"People need to talk to their doctor about what is best for them," she said.

The American Cancer Society encourages annual checkups, but some other organizations suggest only women over 40 should be getting annual checkups.

"There is a lot of controversy around that actually," said Birchman.

Each individual will have a different level of risk because of their own history.

"Some people have a higher risk because of family history or previous diagnoses," said Birchman.

The goal of breast cancer screenings is to find any potential problem as early as possible, and new equipment in the last decade has made that easier.

"We can find a problem within the millimeter now because of advancing technology," said Birchman.

"It was not as advanced in the past, and often when we found it you could already feel the tumors, which would require more extensive treatment," she said.

Earlier detection means simpler treatment plans most of the time.

Those coming in for a mammogram should expect it to be "a little bit uncomfortable," said Birchman, "not crazy uncomfortable though."

"You sort of get a bit contorted, and it will compress your breast in all different directions," she said.

Some women have more trouble than others as well.

After the mammogram, patients will usually get their results in the mail, unless the doctor sees something that requires an immediate response.

Those who receive a breast cancer diagnosis at the Cancer Partnership will have a patient navigator to help them, as well as a "tumor board" who will look at the results "and determine the plan of care depending on the information that they get," said Birchman.

The board consists of medical professionals, like radiologists and oncologists, as well as social workers to help with other patient issues.

"There's really a multi-disciplinary approach," said Birchman. "It's a holistic way of looking at a patient and their needs."

The treatment path for each patient will depend on a number of variables.

"Some people need chemotherapy and radiation, some just need surgery, and some require chemotherapy, radiation and surgery," said Birchman.

A variety of psychological and emotional support services are available at the Cancer Partnership.

Those include support groups, yoga classes, nutrition classes and a naturopath that can help relieve symptoms.

The Cancer Partnership also provides services to help fit wigs, prosthetics and helps connect people to plastic surgeons for those who want to do reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.

For those who need help with financial planning, assistance is also available. "If they are in a time of crisis, we have some financial resources," said Birchman.

There are also a number of clinical trials and research done at the Cancer Partnership and patients there can participate if they choose to.

"We have studies of treatments that are not FDA approved," said Birchman.

"This is something many women choose to do because they feel like they're giving back to the future women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer," she said. "Every treatment we have is based on a study like the ones we do here."

The partnership holds trials like one currently they are doing for a vaccine that could help prevent cancer from reoccurring.

"We're hoping to see some response and eventually it could be FDA approved if we see positive results," said Birchman.

More information on the local Cancer Partnership is available at


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