“In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, I strongly encourage people to get their mammography test. This is because early testing is so important in treating breast cancer, according to Dr. Mary Lou Te-Charcos, an OB-Gyne who has been practicing for almost 9 years in Cebu. In addition to working with several hospitals around Cebu, the OB-Gyne has continually served cancer patients throughout the pandemic from her clinic in HPD’s newly renovated Mandaue branch.
Breast Cancer- Fast Facts
While we must always remain vigilant about the spread of COVID-19, this Pink October should serve as a reminder that breast cancer does not stop even during the pandemic. “ In the Philippines and even worldwide, breast cancer is still the no.1 cause of death among women.” Dr. Charcos explained. “And in the Philippines, breast cancer tends not to be diagnosed right away or as early as possible. The patients already come when symptoms are not as mild, some already have big masses, some come with pain, or with abnormal discharge already.”
The most common cancer among women, typical symptoms of breast cancer include the presence of a breast lump known as a mass or the sudden change in the size and shape of the breast. The good news, however, is that technology for diagnosis and treatment has improved, so breast cancer survival rates have gone up in the last few decades. As Dr. Charcos explains, “Patients working in companies that have annual medical exams for breast cancer have been able to identify the disease earlier. So early detection and diagnosis are really important because even if you don’t have symptoms, the body’s response to treatment while the cancer is still early is really effective.”
Mammogram, Breast Ultrasound, or Breast Biopsy- which test to use?
These are several different tests that doctors recommend for breast cancer, but they each serve different functions and must not be used to substitute for the other.
Mammogram- a low dose X-ray that examines the density and weight of the breast for signs of tumors or masses. This test is the most effective for determining early signs of breast cancer.
Breast Ultrasound- a device that uses high-frequency sound waves to detect abnormalities in the breast, possibly a lump that could be cancerous. A breast ultrasound is not a substitute for mammography to detect early signs of breast cancer.
Breast Biopsy- a procedure where a sample of breast tissue is removed and sent to the laboratory to test if it is malignant or not.
According to Dr. Charcos, women older than 40 are most at risk of developing breast cancer. Dr. Charcos recommends these people to directly take a mammogram test and to do so regularly even when there are no symptoms. “For women over 40, we encourage women to get a mammogram yearly, with the best time being one week after the last day of the menstrual period. Because the last few days after menstruation is when the breast tissue is the most visible for the mammogram machine.”
As for the breast biopsy, Dr. Charcos recommends this for patients who have masses that are big and solid. “This should be done after the breast ultrasound and mammogram, and should be used as a supporting test to confirm the diagnosis of the first two tests.” In the fight against cancer, medical tests such as these are the first step towards life-saving treatment, so it is important to know which tests to take for both patients and doctors to fully understand the situation.
Breast Cancer Screening in the time of COVID-19
These days, the biggest challenge for women to get the regular testing necessary to prevent or fight breast cancer is the fear that people have of contracting COVID-19. This is something that Dr. Mary Lou Charcos sees with her patients. “The patients, of course, have a fear of catching COVID if they come and have their mammography exam. But it’s actually going to a diagnostic center or hospital that they fear because they are scared they will contract the virus given the number of people inside.”
“With COVID, we know that this is a virus you can get anywhere. But with the advent of the vaccines and the facilities in the diagnostic center, I assure my patients that the facility is cleaned regularly. Most of us here are vaccinated, so they should not be scared of coming here and getting the virus, so when they come here, we practice the health protocol of wearing the mask and face shield for staff, doctors, and patients. Also, the machines and facilities are being sanitized regularly.”
There are also women who are hesitant to get a mammography because of the pain and discomfort they feel during the procedure. “During the procedure, the breasts are pressed so there is really discomfort because it is very very short and very tolerable especially given that the new machines are faster nowadays. I assure my patients that it is better to have an early diagnosis than delaying the test which may become more of a problem down the road.”
Lastly, as a frontliner helping cancer patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, what motivates her is seeing her patients get better. “I come to work every day because I feel for my patients. I know that if their illnesses are not diagnosed early, they will have complications later. I feel grateful that I’m able to save lives during this pandemic. And more than that, I enjoy what I’m doing. Seeing my patients is not only rewarding for me, I am also happy to see them get well and get better. It makes me feel better, and I hope that in doing this I make them feel better.”
This month, Hi-Precision Diagnostics Cebu is offering a 50% discount for its digital mammography test, available in our Cebu Main branch located at 28 J. Llorente Street, Cebu City. To know more about HPD Cebu’s mammogram and other tests, visit Hi-Precision Diagnostics Cebu on Facebook or contact us via landline at 888-2222 or cellphone/Viber at 0917 770 3638.