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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer in women–but it doesn't have to be.

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Over the past two decades, death rates attributed to “the beast” known as breast cancer have been trending downward. Scott Hamling, M.D., a Breast Surgeon with The Iowa Clinic, attributes this national trend to two key factors:

  • Increased awareness of breast cancer, leading to earlier detection and treatment.
  • Advancements in breast cancer therapies.

Still, in 2014 and for Iowa alone, the American Cancer Society projects that breast cancer will be newly diagnosed in 2,320 women — and it will cause 390 deaths. That's too many.

If all women knew their risk factors, performed monthly breast self-exams, and followed the recommended schedule of screenings, many more lives would be saved.

Central Iowa's first fully accredited Breast Cancer Treatment Center — John Stoddard Cancer Center — and The Iowa Clinic Women's Center are doing their part to help. They work in tandem to deliver efficient, effective, and timely care that rivals that of any breast cancer center in the nation.

“As soon as a patient is diagnosed, we mobilize a multidisciplinary team of specialists to coordinate, monitor, and provide care,” says Hamling, who chairs the John Stoddard Cancer Center Breast Program Leadership Team. This team includes Radiologists, Pathologists, Oncologists, Breast Surgeons, Genetic Counselors, Plastic Surgeons, Nutrition Counselors, Care Coordinators, and others.

Patients get the Appointments They Need - FAST

“Women diagnosed with breast cancer need to have multiple tests and see multiple specialists. Historically this has been a very fragmented process requiring more time than is ideal,” Hamling says. “The last thing these women need is to have to wait.”

John Stoddard Cancer Center and The Iowa Clinic have a system in place that assures that, within a week of diagnosis, each new breast cancer case is reviewed by the multidisciplinary team (called the Tumor Board) and a treatment plan is mapped out. Within two or three weeks, most patients have completed all necessary diagnostic appointments and tests and treatment is underway.

“We call it fast tracking the patient. We are able to get the patient the appointments they need quickly and efficiently,” Hamling adds.

1. American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2014.

2. John Stoddard Cancer Center earned the top-level, three-year full accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Cancer, a program administered by the American College of Surgeons.

Sign & Symptoms of Breast Cancer

See your doctor if you detect any of the following:

  • New lump, mass, or breast change
  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Lumps or swelling under the arm or around the collar bone

Factors Increasing Risk of Breast Cancer

  • A mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer.
  • Multiple relatives have had breast cancer.
  • Any relative has had ovarian cancer.
  • Any relative has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before age 50.
  • Radiation exposure of the chest as part of treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

When to Be Screened

For women with no known risk factors:

  • Age 20: Begin performing monthly self-exams of both breasts
  • Age 25: Monthly self-exams plus annual breast check by your physician
  • Age 40: Begin annual mammograms; continue for as long as your physician recommends

For women with risk factors:

  • Talk with your physician. You may need more frequent mammograms, periodic MRIs, or other diagnostic screenings.


“When a woman under the age of 40 develops breast cancer, it's usually more aggressive and diagnosed at a later stage,” says Dr. Hamling. “Therefore, it's critical that women to know if they are at risk and, if so, to work with their physician to personalize screenings.”

Read More About Breast Cancer & The Iowa Clinic

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