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Meeting the Need for Speed for Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Guest post by Mark A. Johnson, M.D. Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C. 

As a surgeon, I’ve been involved in breast care for more than fifteen years; it has been a most rewarding part of my career.  I also have the great pleasure of being the Physician Lead for the Komen Accelerating Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) Project in Washington, DC.  This project is a collaboration of Providence Hospital and Unity Health Care, and seeks to improve breast care for women, particularly those from lower socio-economic communities.

Areas of D.C. and neighboring Prince George’s County, MD have extraordinarily high death rates from breast cancer, despite relatively high screening rates.  One of the reasons is that women face a hodge-podge of providers, accepting different insurance at different institutions for different procedures.  Precious time and vital information is too often lost as patients and providers try to maneuver the maze our health care system has become.

Not so for one of my most recent patients, who I’ll call Theresa.  I’ve never seen the health care system work as quickly as it did for her.  Theresa is a 51-year-old African-American woman who never got regular mammograms–she did not have a family history of the disease, her medical insurance lapsed as she changed jobs, and it simply wasn’t a priority.  Then, one day, she felt an unusual lump.

Frightened, she called Unity Health Care, which operates a health clinic in her neighborhood.  She had an appointment within the week and was referred to Providence Hospital, where within a few days she received the second mammogram of her life.  Two days after her suspicious mammogram, she had a biopsy that confirmed her Stage II cancer.   Less than a week later, she was in my office, discussing her treatment options.

That speed saved Theresa much of the anguish that is too common in health care.  A Komen-funded navigator helped to coordinate her care—from her primary care provider to the radiologist to the medical and surgical oncologists—and back again, several times.  Theresa opted to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, which have been completed, and she is about to begin chemotherapy.  She’s got the support she needs and is facing her disease with courage and optimism.  I believe she’ll win her fight against breast cancer.

I have nothing but admiration for my Komen ABCD Project colleagues, who work tirelessly to improve the care system, always putting our patients first.  I also greatly appreciate Susan G. Komen’s vision, support, generosity and guidance that have led to better care for women throughout the National Capital Region.  Together, we are winning against breast cancer, for Theresa and thousands of other women.  Kudos all around!

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Susan G. Komen has written 299 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.