By Michael Davis
Two of Debra Kelly's aunts have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Both have had to undergo mastectomies to treat the disease, the 43-year-old Hampton resident said.
She doesn't want that to happen to her and that's why she came to Henry Medical Center Monday to learn more about how and when to be checked for the disease.
"They told me to do it once a year now since I'm over 40," Kelly said before a presentation at the hospital.
As October is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness month, HMC offered free classes on self-examination and breast health to Henry County women on Monday. And for those who attended, HMC offered a certificate for a free mammogram at its satellite diagnostics office in McDonough.
Donna Means came because she was concerned about something that showed up on her last mammogram.
"I had some problems last year that I needed to follow up on," the 43-year-old McDonough resident said.
She was hoping that another mammogram would give her doctors something to compare the last one to, perhaps ruling out having to have a biopsy.
Henry Medical Center said that more 215,990 cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed this year and more than 40,000 women will die from the disease.
"We try to get women to understand that they have a big role in the preventing this cancer from spreading," said registered nurse and community educator Vicky Ayers.
To that end, Ayers led classes Monday for women seeking information on the correct technique for self-examinations and when to get checked.
One technique has changed in the last several years, Ayers said. While the American Cancer Society previously recommended monthly self-exams, they only encourage them as an option today. "There are limitations to breast self-exams," Ayers said, "but it's helpful to get to know your breasts."
However, women 20-39 should have clinical breast exams every three years and women older than 40 should have yearly mammograms, she said.
Ayers also offered some startling statistics to workshop attendees. While having a family history of breast cancer increases a woman's risk of developing the disease, four out of five women who develop breast cancer have no family history, she said.
And, while older women are most at risk for breast cancer, half of the cases diagnosed are in women under 65 years old.
"If it's detected early, it's highly curable," Ayers said.