RICHMOND, Va. -- Colon cancer runs in Barbara Stanfield's family. Her mother died from it when she was only 17 years old.
“She died at 36. My uncle Norman died at 32,” Stanfield said.
In 2011, Stanfield was surprised when she was diagnosed with not colon cancer, but breast cancer.
"I found it myself and went in and they said that it looked suspicious,” Stanfield recalled.
Stanfield had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Her journey has been her testimony.
"Early testing saves lives, routine testing saves lives," Stanfield said. "If you have a strong family history, insist they test you."
That is also the message from doctors at VCU Massey Cancer Center, who are encouraging patients to be proactive about their family history and cancer screenings as we begin a new year.
“A good place to start is to get some routine imaging," said Patti Bragg, nurse practitioner at VCU Massey Cancer Center.
Massey follows American Cancer Society guidance, which recommends women can begin annual mammograms at age 40.
Additionally, women with a family history of breast cancer should be evaluated for high risk breast cancer.
Bragg is a nurse practitioner in the High Risk Breast Clinic at Massey. A radiologist would often refer a patient to the clinic. At the clinic, patients receive an evaluation and learn about their cancer risk.
“Anything over a 20% lifetime risk for breast cancer is considered high risk. That is the range when we start recommending additional imaging like an MRI in addition to the mammogram every year. We can even detect high risk lesions that are not cancer yet,” Bragg said.
“We have 20,000 genes in every single cell in our bodies,” said Elizabeth Monast, a genetic counselor at Massey.
Monast said family history, younger women with breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer or a recent diagnosis can all be red flags when it comes to an inherited cancer risk. Patients can undergo genetic testing to find out their cancer risk. It’s a test that could cost thousands of dollars in the past.
“Now we can offer multi gene panels 8, 22, 60 genes. Cost for patient out of pocket is $250,” Monast said.
Stanfield has undergone genetic testing for colon cancer since it runs in her family. She doesn't have a family history of breast cancer, but the nurse of 45 years is diligent about getting her mammograms every year.
If you have questions about screenings or genetic testing, talking with your primary care physician is a good place to start.
On the 6th of the month, CBS 6 and VCU Massey Cancer Center remind women to contact their buddy to remind them to conduct a monthly breast self-exam. If it is time, you should also schedule an annual clinical breast exam and mammogram, which are key to early detection.