What you need to know about breast cancer screenings and care during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Susan K. Boolbol, MD, FACS  |  10/8/2020

It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a perfect time to talk with our communities about screenings and care for breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t stop, patient care doesn’t stop, and healthcare doesn’t stop — even in a pandemic. Nuvance Health facilities, including Northern Dutchess Hospital, Putnam Hospital, Sharon Hospital, and Vassar Brothers Medical Center, know how to provide patients the quality care they deserve during this unprecedented time in public health history. Here’s why it’s important not to delay screenings and care for breast cancer.  

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. It’s important for women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer to have annual screening mammograms starting at age 40.

Breast cancer typically doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages. Screening mammograms are currently the most reliable and effective way to detect breast cancer early before it’s big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Results from decades of research show that women who have regular screening mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early, are less likely to need chemotherapy and aggressive treatment like surgery to remove the breast (mastectomy), and are more likely to be cured.

Nuvance Health imaging centers offer self-referral screening mammograms, which means women who meet criteria can schedule a routine mammogram without a physician order. To schedule a screening mammogram by phone, call 845-790-8855 and then press option 1 for imaging. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/breastcare.

It’s also important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of breast cancer. Symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • New lump in the breast or armpit
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

Just because you have these symptoms doesn’t mean you definitely have breast cancer, but it’s important to get checked as soon as you notice any changes. Speak with your doctor and let them know how you’re feeling. Your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram or other tests.

Nuvance Health has implemented a variety of patient safety measures at all facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include COVID-19 screening protocols for patients, staff, and visitors; tactics to ensure social distancing such as virtual waiting rooms; and stringent cleaning and disinfecting of facilities that take place throughout the day with a deep clean daily.

These safety measures might evolve as we learn more about COVID-19. This is a world that will likely be with us for some time. We have to grow accustomed so we can continue to get the health care we need and do the things that bring us joy. But we also have to stay vigilant in our fight against COVID-19; it’s important not to ease up.

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, rest assured that Nuvance Health facilities know how to handle the treatment of breast cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. I co-authored guidelines for breast cancer treatment during the pandemic that were published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, a peer-reviewed journal, and were followed nationwide. I also co-authored guidelines for reopening breast care facilities that were published by the American Society of Breast Surgeons.

The Nuvance Health breast cancer teams are concerned about more than effectively treating the disease. We’re aware that having breast cancer during the pandemic is even more emotionally challenging for patients. Here we are dealing with a world crisis, and our patients have a health crisis. This magnifies the emotional impact of breast cancer exponentially. That’s why our teams are committed to caring for the whole person — emotionally and physically.

The bottom line: Please don’t delay screenings or care if you or a loved one is due for a routine mammogram, are experiencing symptoms of breast cancer, or currently have breast cancer. At Nuvance Health, protocols are in place to help reduce the risk of possible spread of COVID-19. Further, highly skilled, compassionate care teams and the latest technology and treatments are available for our patients.

 

Dr. Susan K. Boolbol is chief of breast surgical oncology and the breast program at Nuvance Health. She joined the Dyson Breast Center at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in October 2019 after serving as chief of breast surgery at the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City for 11 years. She has participated in many research projects and has been published multiple times in major medical journals.