DETROIT (WXYZ) — Thanks to technology and dedicated research, breast cancer outcomes have steadily improved over the past several years. If diagnosed early, Director of Breast Oncology at Henry Ford Health System Dr. Jessica Bensenhaver says patients can expect a 98%+ survival rate.
But early detection is key; just take it from Clinton Township mother of three, Gina Bova.
A self-check in the shower 12 years ago caught a string bean-shaped lump on her right breast.
“Didn’t hurt, wasn’t inflamed. It was just, it was a red flag," Bova told Action News.
That red flag turned out to be cancer.
“It was very scary," Bova said. "You know you go from A to Z. I can’t leave this world and leave three children and a loving family.”
Bova is positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation, which can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
“It’s typically seen in families that have a significant history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. That increased risk can be anywhere from a 60% to 80% lifetime risk," Dr. Bensenhaver said.
While BRCA 1 and 2 may be common mutations linked to cancer, they're not the only ones, she said.
“We actually do gene panel testing now on patients that we think may have a gene mutation putting them at high risk," she said.
People without any hereditary risks or gene mutations can get breast cancer too, explained Bensenhaver.
For an average, healthy American woman, the risk of breast cancer is around 12%. Women with a 20 percent or above risk level are considered high risk, which may require additional screening and earlier mammograms, which generally start at age 40.
“All women regardless of their history are recommended to start risk assessment at the age of 25, so if you are at high risk, we can identify you and start the appropriate screening," said Dr. Bensenhaver.
If you're undergoing screening or imaging for breast cancer treatment and also plan on getting the COVID vaccine, tell your doctor. While it's safe to get the vaccine during treatment, the shot could impact what your physician sees on a screen, due to swelling in the lymph nodes.
“So for example if the patient gets the vaccine in their left arm it causes lymph node swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm and actually in through the chest. So it’s very important that we know that if the patient comes in for their screening imaging or if the patient is undergoing any sort of treatments because we know to expect seeing it," Dr. Bensenhaver told Action News.
As for Bova, after a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, she and her doctors agreed a bilateral mastectomy was her best course of treatment, though every breast cancer patient is different.
Bova has been cancer-free for twelve years.
“I was healthy, active," she said. "If I would have let that go, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be talking to you now."