Detecting Breast Cancer Early With Screenings
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we spoke to Elizabeth (Betsy) Brew, MD, FACS, general surgeon at Aspen Valley Hospital, on the importance of breast health screenings and the satisfaction of helping women through an extraordinarily stressful time.
Why are regular breast health screenings so important for women?
Breast cancer affects one in eight women in the U.S. Ninety percent of these women have no family history of breast cancer, so screening is the most effective tool to detect cancer early, when treatment options and outcomes are best.
What is the #1 reason women avoid screenings, and what would you say to a woman who has that rationale?
Unfortunately, many women avoid screenings because they do not think they are at risk. They think if they do not have a family history of breast cancer or if they are healthy, they won’t get breast cancer. To overcome this perception, I tell my patients that a mammogram and possibly whole breast ultrasound are still the best techniques that we have for early detection of breast cancer.
What are recommended guidelines for breast health screening?
I like the American Society of Breast Surgeons guidelines, which are relatively simple to follow. Basically, all women age 25 and older should have a formal risk assessment for breast cancer. Then at age 40, all women at average risk should start annual 3D screening mammograms. Women with dense breast tissue should consider supplemental imaging, such as an ultrasound. Women should continue annual mammograms until their life expectancy is less than 10 years. For women at higher risk, earlier screening and possibly breast MRI scans should be considered.
How would you describe AVH’s breast health services?
Our services are excellent. The Breast Center has state-of-the-art equipment, and we have radiologists specially trained in interpreting breast images — which is remarkable for a small hospital. If a woman needs care beyond imaging, our nurse navigators offer caring, individualized support. AVH also provides outstanding medical oncology care if there is a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Why did you choose to specialize in breast care and breast cancer surgery?
When I started in practice, there were very few women general surgeons. I joined a group in Wheat Ridge, Colo., in 1996 and was their first woman surgeon. As a result, my practice quickly filled with women, many with breast health issues. I also enjoy the multi-disciplinary approach to breast cancer treatment, which involves the patient, her family and friends, and her care team: surgeon, radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and genetic counselors. Most importantly, I appreciate being able to take care of women at a moment of great stress and help them realize they will likely be cured and can resume their normal lives.
How is your membership in Surgical Specialists of Colorado an advantage in treating breast cancer?
I started at AVH by covering trauma cases and quickly realized there was a need for a breast surgeon in the valley. I was amazed how many women were driving to Vail and Denver at such a stressful time in their lives. My experience as a partner of SSOC, combined with AVH’s resources, has allowed me to provide outstanding care for women in their own world.