Okaloosa County best in state for early detection

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From 2014 to 2016, 61 women died in Okaloosa County from breast cancer. Between those years, the rate of female breast cancer deaths in the county (16.4 per 100,000 population) has been lower than the other 66 Florida counties (19.8), including Walton (18.5) and Santa Rosa (20.6).

By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

FORT WALTON BEACH — Local radiologists and breast cancer survivors are emphasizing the importance of early detection this “Pinktober.”

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Fort Walton Beach Medical Center Radiologist Bradley Brobeck said thanks to advancing technology and awareness of rare forms of breast cancer, the survival rate is on the rise.

“A lot of times, if you catch it early enough, you’re going to live your regular lifespan and it won’t be cut short by breast cancer,” Brobeck said. “If you catch it in Stage 1 versus Stage 2, your survival of 10 years has significantly increased.”

Last year, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center began detecting average cancer cells 15 months earlier compared to years past. The positive increase in early detection is credited to the purchase of a 3D mammogram machine, which has already begun to change the way radiologists perform biopsies and detect irregularities around the U.S.

“What that allows us to do is take these images and instead of one image, we can now scroll through the depths of the image,” Brobeck said. “In 3D, lumps easily jump out. It increases our screening sensitivity by 41 percent compared to the traditional mammogram.”

The Florida Department of Health’s most recent breast cancer statistics revealed that 406 women were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2012 and 2014 in Okaloosa County.

From 2014 to 2016, 61 women died in Okaloosa County from breast cancer. Between those years, the rate of female breast cancer deaths in the county (16.4 per 100,000 population) has been lower than the other 66 Florida counties (19.8), including Walton (18.5) and Santa Rosa (20.6).

Women in Okaloosa County, compared to other Florida counties, are diagnosed with breast cancer at earlier stages.

Brobeck said the county’s success in early detection can be credited to self-exams and awareness of all the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

“If you feel a lump, have pain, tenderness, discharge, nipple retraction or your skin changing to an orange peel color, those can all be an indication of cancer,” he said. “If you have any of those symptoms, you should get checked sooner rather than later.”

Martha Van Dam, a one-year survivor of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), said sometimes, however, there is no such thing as “early detection.”

Rare forms of breast cancer, like IBC, do not present with a lump and most often cannot be detected by mammogram.

“It is the rarest, most deadly form of breast cancer,” Van Dam said. “It doesn’t fit the narrative of, ‘Get a mammogram for early detection,’ because there is no such thing as early detection. Physicians and researchers don’t know what it looks like before Stage 3.”

Brobeck said although those types of cancers are harder to detect in earlier stages, radiologists are now able to detect architectural distortions — tethering or indentation of breast tissue — using the 3D mammogram.

“All of those different types of rare cancers have different types of presentations and sensitivities,” he said. “That’s the beauty about this (3D machine). When we have a patient with architectural distortions, it’s much more sensitive for those types of cancers.”

Brobeck said MRIs are also an essential tool in identifying rare forms of breast cancer in earlier stages.

Van Dam said she hopes more women and men become aware that breast cancer does not just equal a lump and that, sometimes, yearly mammograms aren’t enough.

“Because it is so aggressive and spreads so quickly, the sooner one can begin treatment, the better their chances for survival,” Van Dam said. “However, with so few people knowing what to look for, diagnosis can be slowed due to lack of knowledge.”

Brobeck said the most proactive thing women can do is to become familiar with their breasts, know the symptoms and perform self-exams regularly. If there is ever any change, he said, schedule a visit with a doctor.

“The cure is of ultimate importance,” Brobeck said. “But, what we can focus on locally is early detection.”

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