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Engle: I’m a breast cancer survivor; here’s why screening matters

photo of a breast cancer survivor
Sonya Engle, above, is the chief operations officer at Sonora Quest Laboratories. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
By Sonya Engle | Point of View

I am acutely familiar with breast cancer diagnoses. Nearly 30 years ago, I lost my mother after an 18-month-long fight with breast cancer. She was just 48 years old.

When I was 35, I battled breast cancer, too. Thanks to early detection and a care team of compassionate professionals, I received a clean bill of health in 2001. Today, I am a proud breast cancer survivor, and this breast cancer awareness month, I want to impart the importance of early detection.

Female breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, only lung cancer kills more women each year. Within the past three years, deaths caused by breast cancer have decreased by 43% — thanks to early detection and increased breast cancer awareness.

As a Black woman and survivor, I am committed to emphasizing the necessity of early detection. Regular screenings such as mammograms, an ultrasound, and a breast MRI can detect breast cancer in the earliest stages.

Black women are more likely to be diagnosed in their 40s and with more aggressive breast cancers. Experts agree that people should start making an individual screening plan with their healthcare provider in their 30s or early 40s.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, despite having a lower incident rate. This is due to an increased likelihood of being diagnosed at a later stage of breast cancer, which is more difficult to treat.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a leading independent organization that makes breast cancer screening recommendations and other cancer care guidelines, recently updated screening recommendations to encourage women to start breast cancer screening at age 40 instead of the previously recommended age 50. This new guideline should help providers continue to increase early detection.

Progesterone and estrogen screenings can also be beneficial for monitoring hormone changes that may be indicative of a larger issue. About 70% of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive tumors, which indicates the tumor contains estrogen and/or progesterone receptors.

For those diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, knowing the patient’s hormonal health status is essential to help the doctor determine how to best treat each patient. Hormonal therapy drugs can effectively stop estrogen from acting on breast cancer cells if the patient has a hormone receptor-positive tumor. It is also important for patients with invasive breast cancer to get tissue tested to check if certain proteins involving cell growth are present. These tests determine the best treatment options, how the patient is responding to current treatment, and if their cancer will respond to alternate treatment options.

Sonora Quest Laboratories offers a range of tests with no doctor’s order or insurance required, including progesterone and estrogen screening as well as tissue testing, with a provider’s order.

Sonora Quest also offers the BRCAvantage test, which looks for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to determine if the patient is at a higher risk of getting cancer. Changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can lead to hereditary cancer in the breast, ovary, pancreas, or prostate.

Increasing breast cancer awareness and staying on top of advancements in testing to help with early detection rates can consequently decrease the death rate of breast cancer.

As COO of Sonora Quest Laboratories and through my involvement with the American Cancer Society – Arizona and CEOs Against Cancer, I have a unique opportunity to advocate for awareness, increase research funding, and improve testing options. I am firmly rooted in the importance of laboratory testing to help doctors make life-saving decisions in each cancer patient’s care plan.

We have come a long way in nearly 30 years and each year, we help more and more families share cancer-free moments with their loved ones.

Editor’s note: Sonya Engle is the chief operations officer at Sonora Quest Laboratories.

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