Just before he departed to attend the American College of Surgeons clinical meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, local breast surgeon Dr. Louis C. Blaum answered some questions for The Times Leader.
TL: What kind of advice to you have for women who hesitate to have a mammogram because they’re afraid of what they might find?
Dr. B: It’s hard to break through fear, but I try to make them understand the very strong likelihood is that they won’t find something abnormal, and if they do it will be very early and very curable. God forbid, you don’t want to wait to find it until you can find this large lump in the breast. That could be four or five years after a mammogram would have found it, and unfortunately many women pay for it with their life.
A couple of times a year I’ll see a woman who has put her head in the sand who comes in (at such a late stage of breast cancer) that it bleeds, it smells.
These are intelligent women who didn’t want to believe they had anything going on.
TL: Do you feel that with increased research cancer treatments might become less harsh?
Dr. B: As long as I can foresee, the treatment is going to somehow involve surgery and chemotherapy. I don’t see it changing any time soon for breast cancer or other cancers like lung cancers.
TL: A few months ago we talked about brachytherapy, in which small radioactive seeds are placed inside a woman’s breast for a short period of time, as opposed to conventional radiation that takes several weeks. Have you been using it more and more?
Dr. B: We are able to use it in most women who have small tumors and negative lymph nodes.
For those who want to preserve the breast and are eligible (by size of tumor and a few other factors) eight out of 10 will opt for brachytherapy.
We’ve done about 15 and, to a woman, they’re so happy and grateful. It has not been a bad experience at all. They loved the radiation people that were taking care of them. It’s as good as the traditional six- or seven-week course. If it weren’t as good, we couldn’t use it.
TL: What do you expect to learn in Washington?
Dr. B: Well, I hope I don’t learn too much, because that would mean I haven’t been keeping up. But it’s always nice to go and get refreshed, to find out what’s on the horizon. We’ll find out what’s going on in Milan, Italy, and other areas. This is the biggest surgery meeting in the world. I’ll be attending all the breast sessions.
In closing, Blaum expressed admiration for the courage of his patients.
“God bless these women,” he said. “They just go through hell. But thankfully the vast majority come through the tunnel with smiles on their faces.”