October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute Oncology Breast Nurse Navigator Eve Daretta is one of thousands of healthcare professionals nationwide concerned by current trends demonstrating a rise in the number of later-stage breast cancer diagnoses and that the numbers of mammogram screenings continue to lag in returning to pre-pandemic percentages. For Daretta, an ovarian cancer survivor, the crusade to mobilize all women ages 40 and older, as well as younger women at higher risk for breast cancer is both a professional and personal one.

“It used to be rare for me to see a woman come it at stage IV breast cancer, but over the past 6-8 months those cases have jumped quite a bit,” Daretta said. “Physically and emotionally, the treatment journey is much harder on these women, and they often require more aggressive treatment. This is why we are so vocal about women getting regular mammograms — it is the key to better outcomes and quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment.”

From July through September of this year, 37% of AtlantiCare’s breast cancer cases were stage II or higher, which was a 40% increase over the same period in 2020. In addition, they’ve had a 54% increase in mastectomies this spring and summer compared to the same six-month period last year. AtlantiCare says overall, the team is experiencing more patients requiring mastectomy instead of lumpectomy as well as more patients needing to undergo preoperative chemotherapy.

“We are extremely concerned about this rise in later-stage breast cancers,” said James Wurzer, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of AtlantiCare’s Cancer Care institute and of Radiation Oncology at AtlantiCare. “Our patients include women of varying ages and risk factors, including those under age 40 who have no known family history of breast or other cancers.”

Nationally, experts place a large portion of the blame for this on a  pandemic driven drop in mammogram screenings, which fell as much as 80% during the height of COVID-19 in 2020 and remained approximately 13% below traditional levels through March 2021, according to statistics shared by the Epic Health Research Network.

Breast cancer cells can spread, and tumors can grow, significantly even in just one month’s time. If you missed your regular mammogram appointment due to COVID-19, or for any reason, you should prioritize “making it up” as soon as possible. Do not wait until your traditional month for getting a mammogram rolls around in 2022.

Mammograms have evolved considerably, reducing radiation exposure, making the screening experience better, and producing more specific results. AtlantiCare, for example, uses all-digital mammography to pinpoint specific areas of concern, and 3D mammography to help detect extremely small tumors, even within very dense breast tissue.

A breast cancer diagnosis is no longer the “automatic death sentence” it was generations ago. Advances in treatment, such as oral medication and personalized therapies, lead to better outcomes—even women diagnosed at stage 4 can live quality lives. Plus, more top-tier facilities, such as AtlantiCare’s Cancer Care Institute, now exist to provide quality treatment close to home. Beyond being convenient, the availability to have an oncology team “where you are” plays a significant role in a holistic approach to care, eliminating stress, costs, travel and more.

For more information about breast health, genetic testing and other screenings, or to find a primary or specialty care provider, call the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000 or visit www.atlanticare.org and click on “Find a Provider” to book an appointment online.



Categories: Downbeach

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.