PAYSON, Utah — More deaths from breast cancer could be a ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that by 2030, there may be an additional 2,500 cancer deaths due to a delay in screenings because of the pandemic.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and FOX 13 met a breast cancer survivor who shared her firsthand experience finding and surviving breast cancer during the pandemic.
Brynn Haskell of Payson is a breast cancer survivor and a health care worker with more than 20 years of experience working in an emergency room. Currently, she’s a flight nurse and a PRN at Mountain View Hospital.
Although she also worked at Timpanogos Regional Hospital for a number of years, in July 2020, she went to the Orem MountainStar Healthcare facility as a patient. She had a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts.
“I was sure it was nothing, and I was just being overly cautious,” Haskell said.
The 40-year-old woman was diagnosed with breast cancer after a screening mammogram initially revealed a lump.
A month after her diagnosis, she opted to have both breasts removed. Doctors only found cancer on one side, but she wanted to be safe. She found out after the removal that she made a good choice, as doctors found cancer cells on the other side that were undetectable before doing pathology.
“Still, that fear of waking up after surgery or we found something else, and then just to wake up and not have your breasts anymore,” she said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she endured the cancer journey largely alone, with her husband waiting in the hospital parking lot. She also had to wait until December 2020 for her breast reconstruction surgery.
Fortunately, it didn’t spread, and Haskell is now cancer-free — in remission. She is grateful she caught it early, thanks to yearly mammograms. She says there is still microscopic tissue left, but there is a less than 5% chance that will develop into cancer. She still has to follow up yearly with oncology and do self-exams.
Now, Haskell is advocating for Utah women to get their annual mammograms and to stop delaying care.
Her mom is also a breast cancer survivor.
“Because of that, I had always talked with my doctor about getting early mammograms, so when I was about 36, I started having yearly mammograms. It was really a miracle I caught it when I did just because it had only been a year since my last mammogram and I was due for my next one,” Haskell said.
She is confident if she would have delayed a screening, her cancer would have spread.
That’s why making screenings a priority is crucial, especially here in Utah
“We rank 44th in the nation for being on time with our yearly screening mammograms,” said Dr. Kathryn Everton, a breast imaging physician with MountainStar.
Dr. Everton says getting checked annually can be the difference between having to get a more aggressive treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation. It could also save your life.
“When we catch them [cancer] small like this, they’re almost always completely treatable. We are here to make sure women get back on track. The longer you wait, the more extensive treatment you might need,” Everton said.
Three out of four cancer diagnoses are in women with no family history.
Doctors recommend a yearly screening for all women, regardless of family history, starting at 40 years old.
Mammogram screenings are for women 40 and over with no new symptoms, and the appointment typically takes 20 minutes.
Some women experience pain during a mammogram. Dr. Everton says there are a few ways you can alleviate this pain. She says if you are premenopausal, you can schedule your mammogram the week after your period when your breasts are the least tender. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or Tylenol. You could also cut back on caffeine two or three days ahead of the mammogram as this can help desensitize the breast tissue, making your mammogram more comfortable.
Everton says what’s important is simply that your mammogram gets done.
Who qualifies for a mammogram?
If you’re one of the many women who missed their mammogram in 2020 due to the pandemic or not, or you know you’re simply due for one, it's suggested that book your mammogram as soon as possible.
It’s crucial for women to get a mammogram beginning at the age of 40 because doing so can decrease breast cancer deaths by 30-40 percent.
Dr. Everton says it’s even a good idea for women to talk to their doctor before they turn 30 about a tailored breast health screening plan. And, if your mom or sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, it is recommended you begin getting your annual mammogram 10 years before their age of diagnosis.
If you’re concerned about potential breast pain, Dr. Everton says to try these tips:
- Before your appointment, take a pain reliever an hour before
- Schedule your mammogram after your menstrual cycle
- Cut back on caffeine a few days before your screening appointment
- During the appointment, communicate your concerns. We’ll do everything we can to keep you comfortable.
Dr. Everton sees patients at both St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek and Lone Peak Hospital in Draper. She also suggests women familiarize themselves monthly with the condition of their breasts and take note of changes that may be associated with breast cancer. If you notice any of these during a self-screening, talk to your doctor:
- New lumps
- New areas of breast tissue thickening
- Skin dimpling
- Nipple retraction
- Nipple discharge
- Rashes or flaking of the nipple
To schedule a mammogram at a MountainStar Healthcare hospital near you, call (844)481-0262. For more information about breast health or to book your annual mammogram at St. Mark’s, call (801)268-7900. If you’re interested in being seen at Lone Peak, call (801)545-8036 or learn more by visiting LonePeakHospital.com/mammogram.