- Sara Doan, Northeast Arkansas News
Doctor advocates for awareness, early detection of breast cancer
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
JONESBORO, Ark- October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Arkansas ranks 37 in the country in terms of women getting their annual mammograms. One physician speaks with Northeast Arkansas News to explain how life-saving the exams can be.
“If a woman who is screened annually- she reduces her risk of dying from breast cancer- compared to women who don't get screened- by 50 percent. Wouldn't you want to improve your odds by 50 percent? I would,” said Dr. Sharp Malak, M.D., a breast imaging Radiologist at St. Bernards Imaging Center.
Dr. Malak is an advocate for early detection. He says an annual mammogram can catch the disease early before it spreads throughout the body.
“The highest risk factor for getting breast cancer is being a woman and aging,” Dr. Malak continued. “If we took all the women we diagnose with the breast cancer, 75 percent of them don’t have a family history. The only factor of them getting breast cancer is that they’re a woman, and they have breasts.”
Doctor Malak says the more advanced the cancer is when detected means more aggressive treatment options like radiation and chemotherapy.
Women with a family history of the disease are at higher risk for developing it. Meaning screenings should begin at a younger age.
“We need to do that risk assessment at age thirty because they may need screening before the recommended 40 [years of age],” he said.
Roughly a third of Arkansas counties are without a healthcare facility that provides mammography an x-ray that detects the most common cancer diagnosed in women.
“That's around one hundred thousand women across the state that don’t have access to ready mammography."
St. Bernards is helping fill the gap through their mobile mammogram unit that travels to 23 counties in the region, providing the exams to women who are underserved or underinsured.
“These women, many of them, would never have a mammogram because they either couldn’t afford it. Or they didn’t have the transportation, or they couldn't leave their families to come. But we’re taking it to them,” Dr. Malak says.
Each year the Ma'am Mobile diagnoses around two dozen women with breast cancers across the region. Making early detection vital for changing the outcomes of patients diagnosed with the disease.
“We can’t prevent breast cancer. But we can prevent women from dying of breast cancer if we find their cancer early enough and use the tools to treat it. It’s the most common cancer to occur in women. It’s not just something we should think about in October.”
The St. Bernards Imaging Center has a photo wall of breast cancer survivors. Doctor Malak says while it’s a scary diagnosis, the wall serves as a reminder of hope for current patients.