Munson Medical Center has launched a new Traverse City breast cancer screening program. Learn more about the program designed to identify women who have an elevated risk with the feature below, originally published in the Medical Insider within the November 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

Women who are diagnosed at breast cancer’s earliest stage have a 95 percent survival rate at 10 years. That powerful statistic explains why early diagnosis has become one of the most fervently pursued strategies in the war against cancer.

Doing its part, Munson Medical Center has launched a new breast cancer-screening program designed to identify women who have an elevated risk. Women who have a 20 percent or higher risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetimes will be more closely monitored, so if they do develop breast cancer, intervention can happen as quickly as possible.

The program begins this fall, when the mammogram patients in for regular checkups at the hospital or the Smith Family Breast Health Center at Copper Ridge will be asked to fill out a risk assessment form. The questionnaire runs two pages and asks for information about personal health and lifestyle habits and family history. “We encourage people to take the form home, so they can talk to relatives, like their mom or an aunt, to get a more complete story,” says Hilary Tarsney, Comprehensive Breast Program Coordinator at Munson Medical Center.

The information is fed into a computer, which determines a risk percentage based on two nationally recognized risk models. Of course the findings are especially important to women with elevated risk, but the information is important for all women, in Tarsney’s view.

“Many people tell us they are at higher risk, but their information shows they are not, so that is a relief for them,” Tarsney says. “On the flip side, we find people who did not know they were higher risk, but are, so we can advise.”

A nurse practitioner will contact women with elevated risk and have them come in for a consultation. “They will go over the results, ask about possibly doing other tests and discuss changes to their lifestyle that can reduce risk—dietary changes, exercise, less alco-
hol,” Tarsney says. Some people are eligible for medications that can reduce risk. Some women might alternate every six months with a mammogram and an MRI. Some of the higher risk patients may be eligible for full genetics testing. “Most insurance companies will pay for blood tests that will test for genetic mutations in DNA that would elevate their risk of breast cancer,” Tarsney says.

Between the hospital and Copper Ridge, 25,000 women a year have mammograms in Traverse City, and of those in 2014, 285 women were diagnosed with some type of breast cancer. “Even if half the women filled out the form, that would be fantastic,” Tarsney says. “They would know what their risk is.”

In Michigan, women must have a physician order to schedule a mammogram. (The health department can issue mammogram orders for women who are uninsured or under-insured.)

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Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski