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Early Detection Increases Breast Cancer Survival Odds

October 03, 2013

In October 2011, Chita Sinon went to see her regular physician for a routine checkup. Dr. Khalid Baig, a family medicine specialist on the medical staff at Washington Hospital, noticed that her thyroid gland was enlarged. He scheduled a sonogram for Chita on February 23, 2012 to allow her time to take a long-planned trip to the Philippines.

“When I went in for the thyroid sonogram, I was surprised that Dr. Baig also had checked the referral form for a mammogram screening,” Mrs. Sinon recalls. “I had a mammogram in January 2011 that was negative, and I had told him at my checkup appointment that I probably didn’t need another mammogram in 2012 because I was over age 70.”

Mrs. Sinon’s thyroid sonogram was negative, but there was something different between the previous year’s mammogram and the new one. Kathy Hesser, RN – who was then the Washington Women’s Center Coordinator and has since retired – called Chita to come in for a further evaluation.

“They did an ultrasound screening on the 28th, which confirmed a lump in my left breast,” Mrs. Sinon says. “A few days later, on March 5, they performed an ultrasound-guided fine-needle biopsy that confirmed a diagnosis of invasive carcinoma. After hearing the diagnosis, I went home with unsettled feelings. I was in denial, and I was wondering what I had done wrong to develop cancer.”

Mrs. Sinon describes what happened next as a “whirlwind of doctors.” 

She met with surgeon Dr. William Dugoni, Medical Director of the Women’s Health Program at Washington Township Medical Foundation, on March 13. He recommended a lumpectomy – because of the tumor’s small size and location – along with a sentinel node biopsy to determine whether the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. On March 14, she consulted with Dr. Michael Bastasch, a board-certified radiation oncologist in the Washington Radiation Oncology Center. She also saw medical oncologist Dr. Paula Kushlan, who practices with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which has offices in Palo Alto and Fremont, on March 16.

“The doctors, including my family physician Dr. Baig, all worked together to coordinate my treatments,” she notes. “It was great to be able to get treatment right away. I had the surgery on March 27, and I was able to attend my 50-year nursing class reunion in Las Vegas on April 3. All my classmates were amazed that I had just gone through surgery and was able to attend.”

When she returned to the Bay Area, Mrs. Sinon had several appointments with Dr. Bastasch and the staff at Washington Radiation Oncology Center to “map” the areas of her breast that would be treated with radiation therapy. She was not a candidate for chemotherapy because her cancer was Stage 1 and had not spread to the lymph nodes. She began radiation therapy on May 29, receiving a total of 33 treatments between then and July 16.

“Radiation therapy is used in almost all cases following surgery for breast cancer,” Dr. Bastasch explains. “Breast cancer often recurs after surgery, and radiation reduces the risk of local recurrence of cancer in the breast.”

In Mrs. Sinon’s case, she received external-beam radiation treatments while in a supine (flat on the back) position. The Washington Radiation Oncology Center – which is accredited by the American College of Radiology – also is able to provide radiation therapy for some patients while in a prone (face down) position. The patient is positioned on her stomach on a specially designed table that has a hole for the breast being treated. Because the breast hangs away from the body, radiation exposure to surrounding tissues and organs is minimized. Dr. Bastasch notes that treatment in the prone position may be especially beneficial for patients with larger breasts who tend to get worse skin reactions when treated in the supine position.

Other patients may be candidates for high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, in which quick bursts of high-dose radiation are delivered from a machine to the tumor through a catheter, which is removed once treatment is completed. HDR brachytherapy is not suitable for all breast cancer patients. Physicians on the Washington Hospital Tumor Board carefully screen all cases to make sure patients are suitable candidates for this treatment.

Even though she received the more traditional radiation treatment, Mrs. Sinon says she experienced minimal side effects.

“I hardly had any redness,” she notes. “Toward the end it was like a slight sunburn. I was very careful to follow the directions to drink a lot of water before treatments and to faithfully use ointments to soothe the skin.

“The staff at the Women’s Center and in Radiation Oncology were all very friendly and highly professional,” she adds. “I was there every day, Monday through Friday, except for holidays, and it became like a second home. It was an extraordinary experience. The comfortable atmosphere makes cancer treatment less intimidating. Going to the Women’s Center is like walking into a spa, and I still go to the Women’s Center for massage treatments. I also took advantage of the HERS Foundation’s ‘Bras for Body and Soul’ program.”

Once her radiation treatments were completed, Mrs. Sinon had a follow-up mammogram in April 2013, which was clear. She will have another follow-up mammogram screening this month.

“I was fortunate that my cancer was diagnosed early, and it was only Stage 1,” Mrs. Sinon admits. “I didn’t think I needed that mammogram, but I’m very grateful my doctor ordered it.

To learn more about the treatment services offered at the Washington Radiation Oncology Center, call (510) 796-7212. To learn more about Cancer Care Programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/cancer. For information about services at the Washington Women’s Center, visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter.

‘Think Pink’ Event Offers Breast Health Education and Support

For the fifth year in a row, Washington Hospital is hosting its free Think Pink event to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Think Pink offers women the latest information on breast health and about breast cancer screening guidelines and treatments. This year’s event is supported by a grant from Genentech. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, October 15 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in the Tent Atrium at Washington West – located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register to attend Think Pink, or for more information, visit www.whhs.com/think-pink or call (800) 963-7070.

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