Cheryl Watts, a nurse who works in the Pre-Admission Testing Office, has faithfully gotten a mammogram each year.
Two years ago, her mammogram showed a suspicious spot and her doctor, Nina Horowitz, a surgeon in the Smilow Cancer Hospital Breast Center, saw Watts and her husband almost immediately and recommended a needle biopsy for a diagnosis.
"My cancer was caught early," says Watts, who was 58 at the time of her diagnosis. "In fact, Dr. Horowitz told me I was a ‘poster girl for mammograms' because we caught it at an early stage which usually means a better outcome."
Watts is among the approximately 70 percent of YNHH employees over the age of 40 who receive regular mammograms but she would like to see that number grow to 100 percent. Starting at the age of 40, employees enrolled in a YNHH health plan pay no co-pay for an annual mammogram.
Anees Chagpar, MD, director, Smilow Breast Center, and a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer, agrees wholeheartedly with Watts. She sees patients with breast cancer almost daily.
"Breast cancer is a malignancy that is eminently treatable and the outcomes are good when we can find the cancer early," says Dr. Chagpar.
"That's why regular mammograms are so important. People are scared — they don't want to get bad news but if you get bad news early, it's good news — because that's when it is most treatable."
Dr. Chagpar notes that breast cancer mortality has been dropping for years because of advances in detection, medical oncology and targeted therapy and she is particularly proud of the work her colleagues are doing to make breast and other cancers a chronic illness, not unlike diabetes.
"Here at Smilow, we bring the interdisciplinary expertise we've amassed in these areas to push the frontier in every aspect of managing breast cancer patients," said Dr. Chagpar. "The radiologists use 3D mammography to find the cancer; our surgeons are improving surgical and reconstructive surgery techniques. Outstanding advances allow us to deliver radiation therapy in less toxic, more targeted doses.
"We are unlocking the mysteries of what drives cancers and how they progress at the most basic molecular foundation," points out Dr. Chagpar, "and finding the drug therapies that attack them at their root."
Increasingly, Dr. Chagpar notes that medical oncologists are able to identify patients at high risk who are more positively prone to breast cancer and developing ways to prevent the progression of disease. Once a patient has been treated, Smilow provides a survivorship clinic that helps patients return to productive lives. All of this leads Dr. Chagpar to tell employees, "You have a gem of place here and you need not be afraid to get screened. If you get a negative result, you are relieved. If you get a positive result, you have a fantastic team that will help you get through this disease."
Cheryl Watts agrees. "All the care is right here for us," says Watts, whose job is to speak with patients before their surgeries at YNHH. "Employees have no excuse not to get screened every year. And if you receive a diagnosis of cancer, you could not be in a better place than Smilow — they will be with you every single step of the way."