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Spotting breast cancer early

Best detector of the disease is a mammogram

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Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in New York, according to the New York State Department of Health. Roughly 16,000 women are diagnosed every year, and more than 2,500 die of the disease. Approximately 150 men are diagnosed annually as well.

Given those numbers, it is no surprise that health providers are busy in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Three Nassau University Medical Center employees visited the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence on Oct. 24 with the hospital’s Mammogram Van to talk with residents about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and the importance of mammograms.

Breast cancer forms in the cells of the breast, and a mammogram detects the disease by X-raying the breasts. NUMC has offered mobile mammography in the Mammogram Van since the mid-1990s, and women 40 and older can get the service free. Younger women who provide health insurance information can get free exams as well.

Alyssa Dominguez-Eisenberg is an NUMC breast health educator. Speaking to an audience of mostly women at the community center after the van spent four hours in its parking lot, she told them she was a breast cancer survivor because she had a mammogram. “Mammography is the best way to catch breast cancer early,” Dominguez-Eisenberg said. “My breast cancer got caught at stage zero because I got a mammogram.”

The state Health Department recommends that women ages 50 to 74 get a mammogram every two years, because more than three-quarters of women who are diagnosed with the disease in New York are older than 50. Dominguez-Eisenberg noted that those who are the greatest risk also include women who have their first child after age 30, are overweight or have a family history of cancer. “The number one cause of breast cancer is age,” she said.

NUMC Nurse Manager Chery Marie Nazareno said the van offers people who may not have access to a medical facility the chance to get a mammogram. “We try to pick places that everyone knows, such as a library or a community center like this,” Nazareno said. “We look to bring the hospital to the community and have people from all walks of life come on the van.”

Many women have a fear of mammograms, Dominguez-Eisenberg noted. But Yvonne McDow-Drain, a nurse at NUMC, said that people shouldn’t allow others to influence their thinking. “Just because another person had a painful mammogram experience doesn’t mean you will,” McDow-Drain said. “You need to experience it for yourself.”

Far Rockaway resident Eon Bailey, the only man in the audience, noted the importance of making people aware of treatment options. “I’ve had four relatives die from breast cancer,” he said. “It’s important that community members find out more information on how to catch breast cancer early on.” 

Dominguez-Eisenberg said that her main goal is to bring mammography to more people. “I looked at breast cancer through the eyes of a victim for half of my life,” she said. “Now I look at it through the eyes of a survivor. I’m here because of a mammogram, and I want all of you to still be here as well.”