Georgia doctor, cancer survivor on breast health and treatment

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Dr. Kimberly Hutcherson, diagnostic radiologist and breast cancer survivor, attended the Society of Breast Imaging Symposium 2022 in Savannah this week.

The primary goal of the Society of Breast Imaging is to save lives and minimize the impact of breast cancer. During the symposium, shared decision making was a hot topic.

“Shared decision making is when the patient and doctor are involved in the care they are about to receive,” Hutcherson explained. “We want to present the patient with all the options available for her care.

“The surgeons will discuss the surgical options that they deem important to manage the cancer. The medical oncologist does the same, and the radiologist also does this process, ensuring that patients are informed of all that is available for their care. Then together they decide what is best.

A 2020 Physician Champion Award winner and Medical Director of Breast Imaging and Intervention at Northside Gwinnett Breast Center, Hutcherson’s studies and work in the area of ​​breast health are extensive and date back to the 1980s.

“My mom is a teacher and my dad was a computer analyst in the Air Force, so we grew up in the Panama Canal Zone,” Hutcherson said. She then moved to her parents’ hometown in Andalusia, Alabama, USA, where she completed her high school education.

“There I just found a passion,” Hutcherson said. “I had really passionate math and biology teachers, which led me to major in math and biology at my college, Birmingham-Southern College.”

After graduating from college, she entered medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. It was during his third year in medical school that the chair of the radiology department had a great influence in making him realize the importance of radiology in the path of medicine.

“I had expressed an interest in women’s health, so I interviewed for a fellowship – just a fellowship and an interview – at the Women’s Imaging Fellowship at Magee – Womens Hospital, which is at the University of Pittsburgh , and I was accepted,” Hutcherson explained. . “So that’s what led me on my path, my interest in women’s health and breast imaging.”

Eventually, she moved to the Atlanta area and interviewed for just one job, which she got and still holds today.

Hutcherson thinks she has been very lucky and blessed throughout her journey. However, she experienced a different kind of blessing in her life, personally diagnosing her own breast cancer at an early stage.

“My journey with breast cancer is quite unique,” she said. “I am fortunate enough to be a breast radiologist and was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 40.

“I am happy to announce that this year 2022, I am celebrating 15 years as a breast cancer survivor.”

Hutcherson has shared parts of her journey with her patients over the years, so they can see that she has been on a similar journey to what they are about to go through.

“My background is also unique in that I received my pathology results the day after my biopsy results from a friend, a pathologist at my hospital,” she explained. “I really wanted to provide my patients with a similar experience of receiving their pathology results in a timely manner and in a comfortable environment.”

She continued, “In my practice, I led a process improvement in our patient center program called a post-breast biopsy clinic in which a comfortable space environment allows the radiologist to deliver results to patients in person.”

This process consists of a minimally invasive breast biopsy scheduled within three days. The post-biopsy breast clinic is scheduled three days after the biopsy.

At the clinic, the patient meets with the radiologist and the breast health nurse from the oncology services. In addition to evaluating the biopsy site to ensure proper healing of the incision, they schedule an appointment with one of their breast surgeons so that the patient knows the next step in her care with the goal of reducing breast cancer. anxiety that some might feel.

Regarding when women should start having annual mammograms, Hutcherson said 40.

“When we can detect changes early, there are more treatment options and there’s a better chance of survival,” she explained. “The theory that you get mammograms every two years, or from age 50, there are a lot of cancers that will be more advanced by the time they’re diagnosed. We want to capture these changes when they are early.

Hutcherson said breast self-awareness is also something she encourages in patients.

“The idea of ​​knowing that you know your own body, probably better than anyone, you’re going to look for these changes: nipple discharge, skin changes, focal pain, palpable lump, skin dimple, skin discoloration,” she said. “If you see these changes, be aware of these changes, tell your doctor immediately. See if they can refer you to the nearest breast center to be evaluated by the radiologist.

For women who may have a family history of breast cancer, Hutcherson said the recommendations are to start mammograms 10 years before the age of onset of breast cancer in the first three parents. For example, if a mother had breast cancer at age 40, she would recommend her daughter to have an annual mammogram at age 30.

“The number of breast cancers that are actually hereditary is very small, about 5%,” Hutcherson said. “So the actual concept that ‘because my mom or my aunt had breast cancer, I’m going to have it,’ isn’t necessarily true.

“The majority of breast cancers just happen because of environmental issues, you know, there’s a lot of things here in the world, I think, that ultimately cause cancer in patients.”

However, the specialist said there are preventative measures that people can incorporate into their lives to be healthy.

“Stay at a healthy weight, exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol, smoke or things of that nature,” Hutcherson recommended. “All of these can be carcinogenic and affect the changes that cause breast cancer.”

When it comes to the eradication of breast cancer, Hutcherson does not foresee it.

“Eradication is an interesting word. This would indicate that we should detect which gene and there are so many different types of breast cancers that exist,” she explained. “There are different receptors, there are so many different variables and what type of breast cancer you have, what receptors, how you treat it.

“So I think the best thing I can say is that eradication is probably not something that I could predict, but I’m not into the biological aspect of determining.”

Hutcherson said as a breast radiologist, from a diagnostic perspective, early detection is key to saving lives.

“There are millions of living people in this world who have survived breast cancer, and they survived because they were caught early,” she said. “They received treatment tailored to their tumor type and the characteristics associated with that tumor type and they are surviving and thriving today and advocating for other patients.”

According to the World Health Organization, hundreds of thousands of people around the world died of breast cancer in a single year.

For those who may not take breast health seriously, Hutcherson said, “Life is a wonderful thing and you want to be here for your family, your friends and just for yourself. It’s painful and hurtful to think that sometimes people don’t take advantage of the resources that are available to them.

“It’s really about education, and I think not being aware that any kind of cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean a death sentence, and I think it’s really a fear factor,” said- she continued. “They just don’t want to come in. They don’t want to know.

“Not knowing is worse than knowing because if you don’t know it keeps growing and progressing and spreading and then eventually the doctors can’t treat it successfully. You don’t want this situation, you want to be able to spot changes early so we can offer better treatment options. »

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