Right now the chances for any woman to develop breast cancer is one in eight, but there are many women who's risk is much higher. To find and treat those at higher risk, Doctors at Avera McKennan have put together a multi-disciplinary team.
Suzanne Willadsen has always stayed on top of her personal health. A lot of that comes from her mother who fought breast cancer for more than two decades.
"When mom was diagnosed in 1990 with it I had made sure that I went in every year for my mammogram, sometimes just to appease her but for the most part I didn't miss it ever." Said Willadsen.
Suzanne's diligence held true, until her appointment this year.
"My scheduled mammogram was supposed to be on mom's birthday which was March 29th but she was in hospice." Said Willadsen.
So she rescheduled for the following week.
"Not realizing that would be her funeral, so I missed it a second time." Said Willadsen.
With plenty on her mind and heart, a week later Suzanne finally made it to her mammogram.
"I went to the third one and they called me back in and said you know there's something there we kind of want to take a look at." Said Willadsen.
What they found was breast cancer.
"When she showed me what it was I thought you are worried about those teeny tiny things? I mean these weren't even the size of a grain of salt they were so tiny!" Said Willadsen.
The same disease that took her mother just weeks earlier was now attacking Suzanne. However, those delayed appointments proved extremely vital.
"The nurse said, Suzanne had you kept the one on your mom's birthday it (the tumor) may have been too small and we probably wouldn't have caught it, by the time you would come around the next time it may have been life-threatening so it wasn't like why me? it was a blessing." Said Willadsen.
Given her family history Suzanne is a prime patient for the high risk breast cancer prevention clinic.
"Really the whole goal here is that we can pick up breast cancers earlier or hopefully prevent cancer from developing altogether." Said Dr. Wade Dosch, a breast surgeon with the Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care.
At the high risk clinic anyone can find out their breast cancer risk as doctors take them through a variety of screens and help develop a plan for the future.
"If we think they are high-risk or determine they are high-risk by these models and questions, we'd decide if it's appropriate to do genetic testing." Said Dr. Dosch.
Genetic screening is just one tool to determine risk and track progression of the disease. Genetic counselors can then take that information and help educate patients.
"That's my role in it, the family history side of things but high-risk can also mean that your personal history puts you at risk. You maybe had a breast biopsy that shows some atypical cells or some cells that aren't looking quite normal but they're not cancer yet." Said Kayla York, a Genetic Counselor at the Avera Cancer Institute.
A multi-generation history of breast cancer usually means a higher risk, but on the flip side it also heightens awareness.
"We can be proactive, we can institute high-risk screenings or mammograms and MRI's at a more regular basis and starting at younger ages. So not starting at 40 which is recommended for everyone but starting younger." Said York.
Prevention starts with the person. That means taking control of your health through self exams and scheduling your mammograms.
"Don't put it off, I'm living proof of that. Don't put it off, go get it done."
Take it from Suzanne, cancer is a formidable opponent; but not an unbeatable one.
Having daughters of her own, Suzanne was also tested to see if she carries the BRCA gene mutation, the gene that causes an even higher risk of developing breast cancer. Those results were negative.
For more information about the High Risk Breast Cancer Prevention Clinic just call 877-AT-AVERA. To set up an appointment you can simply call the Avera Comprehensive Breast Care at 605-322-3950 or follow the link to BeASurvivorAvera.com