Cancer Screen Week: Medical expert, survivor encourage others to stay on top of checkups

WSAV NOW

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Suzanne Kirkeby says she’s thankful to the medical experts who helped catch her breast cancer in its early stages.

The 46-year-old mother says doctors found a lump in 2018 during a routine mammogram.

“I got a callback the same day to come back, and they redid the mammogram and still saw that suspicious area,” Kirkeby told WSAV NOW.

After performing a biopsy, doctors confirmed that she had breast cancer.

Since they discovered it early, Kirkeby says her prognosis was good.

The cancer didn’t spread to her lymph nodes and was successfully removed during a lumpectomy procedure.

“I still had to have chemotherapy, but I only had to have four rounds, and then radiation,” Kirkeby shared.

The early detection of her breast cancer may be a large reason why she’s still here today.

The medical community recognizes Cancer Screen Week through Dec. 11 in an effort to remind people to make their health and regular checkups a priority, even during the pandemic.

“In a year where everything has been about COVID-19, cancer doesn’t stop being diagnosed, cancer doesn’t stop existing in the general population,” said Karen Terry, director of oncology for Memorial Health.

Some of the most common cancers treated at the hospital include the breast, lung, gynecologic and colorectal varieties. 

“It’s really important that people continue to get their screenings and for them to know that Memorial Health is doing all we can to make this hospital as safe as possible so people can continue getting their screenings,” Terry told WSAV NOW.

More than 606,500 people were expected to die from some type of cancer throughout 2020, according to the American Cancer Society.

With regular screenings, those cancers can be detected early, thus increasing the odds of successful treatment.

“[It] means that we’re really able to treat most of them in a way that people have better outcomes, so they’re able to live a lot longer after a cancer diagnosis,” Terry said. 

Some existing cancer screenings, she says, include mammographies for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colon cancer.

“The third main screening is for lung cancers, and there’s really an opportunity in South Georgia to increase the number of patients that get lung cancer screenings,” Terry said, adding, “This is a CT scan for people who have a history of smoking, and it typically starts at age 55.”

She notes that most cancers, like pancreatic or ovarian, do not have a specific screening. 

“[This] is why it’s important to see your primary care provider every year,” Terry said. 

Kirkeby says following her own experience with breast cancer, she continues to stay on top of getting her routine mammograms, having had one last June and being scheduled for another next week.

“If everything’s good next week, that will be three years cancer-free, so that’s exciting,” Kirkeby said.

“I think it is scary going to go get these tests and the unknowns,” she said, “but I think it can be scarier letting it wait.”

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