WATERTOWN — Though organizations can’t seem to agree on whether breast self-exams should be recommended to women of any age, they are unified in the idea that women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and should report any changes to their health care providers.

One organization that does share out the annual message that self-examinations can be beneficial in possibly detecting breast cancer early, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is Samaritan Medical Center.

This is especially true for Samaritan’s Women’s Wellness and Breast Care Center, 1575 Washington St.

If someone finds something, a lump or other abnormality with their breasts, the first thing they should do is contact their regular health care provider for a clinical breast exam. If they feel that it’s warranted, the provider will do some imaging and then at that point, once they decide they want a breast specialist to take a second look, that’s where Women’s Wellness and Breast Care comes in.

Crystal L. Sterling, Nurse Navigator for Breast Care at the Women’s Wellness and Breast Care Center, has been at the center since 2019.

“I’m kind of, in a nutshell, the point of contact for a patient as they navigate their journey through any breast specific diseases,” she said.

At the clinic, she will take incoming referrals and triage them, talking with patients before they’re seen about what to expect when they come for their first consult. A lot of times, the clinic will see patients before their biopsies, so she is with patients during the biopsy as well.

For any patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer, Mrs. Sterling will walk alongside them through their journey as much as possible. That includes making sure they have all their appointments set up, that they have a medical oncologist or radiation oncologist, and addressing any kind of barriers to their care that they might have. Barriers can be financials, insurance, fertility, and more. For younger patients, genetic testing is offered if they are considered at higher risk of breast cancer due to family history or genetic mutation.

“Kind of all the pieces of their care, I help to coordinate that, make sure there’s no missing pieces, and make sure that all the providers and the multidisciplinary team are on the same page,” Mrs. Sterling said.

Nurse navigator helps patients on journey

A mammography exam room at the Samaritan Women’s Wellness and Breast Care Center, 1575 Washington St., on Friday in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

She said that at the clinic, providers encourage women at the age of 20 to start their breast self-exams. A good rule of thumb, according to Mrs. Sterling, is to use the day you were born as a starting point, and conduct the exams on the same day each month to easily remember to do them.

“In the shower is a really good place to do that,” she said. “The important thing is that the woman knows her normal; that way, if there’s any change in that baseline, they can report that to their provider.”

According to Mrs. Sterling, there are some things that patients should look for when conducting breast self-exams: any changes in the nipples, maybe an inversion or discharge, especially if it’s unilateral on one side; any skin changes such as thickening, redness or rash on the breast; and lumps that are firm and new.

She recommended that patients note what they feel when they notice something out of the ordinary and include as many details as they can to answer provider questions later on.

Nurse navigator helps patients on journey

A mammography scanner at the Samaritan Women’s Wellness and Breast Care Center, on Friday in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

As far as screening mammograms, Mrs. Sterling said they’re very important starting at the age of 40 for a woman at average risk, but if there’s any family history or a genetic mutation, it might be earlier for that patient. The number a patient can call to schedule their mammogram, once they have an order from their provider, is (315) 779-5200.

From seeing moms-to-be for specialized pregnancy care, to supporting all women with gynecologic and breast services, Samaritan’s Women’s Wellness and Breast Care offers a range of imaging services, high-risk pregnancy care, Cancer IQ early detection screening and same-day reads. The on-site team of specialists, including a board-certified breast surgeon and radiologist, work to make patient journeys with breast cancer as simple as possible. Breast treatments and procedures offered through the center include full breast imaging services, including ultrasound, dense breast imaging, mammography and stereotactic. The imaging department is accredited in Mammography and OB/GYN ultrasound by the American College of Radiology. The center also offers genetic cancer screening services through Samaritan’s partner, Cancer IQ, and 3D/4D ultrasound services.

Many services are available right at the Women’s Wellness and Breast Care center, though medical and radiation oncology take place at the Walker Center for Cancer Care. With Samaritan’s new clinical affiliation with Roswell Park in Buffalo, patients who qualify for certain clinical trials Roswell is hosting can potentially participate in them now. The clinic also works closely with a plastic surgeon and starts the conversation about reconstruction at the time of diagnosis. If patients need plastics for any reason, the clinic will set that up for them. Risks and side effects are always part of the conversation, all part of informed consent for any procedure where a patient is receiving something implantable.

“When the patient receives that diagnosis, it’s going to be a lot of information in that day, and we kind of skim the surface and that’s where I come in,” Mrs. Sterling said. “I’ll touch base with the patient later on and say, ‘hey, we talked about this, these were some options, these are some things that we might be looking at — how are you feeling about that? What questions do you have?’”

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