By Alicia Wanek
About the time you think you are destined to resign yourself forever to scalding hot car seats and outrageous utility bills, one day it happens. You walk out to your car one morning and feel that crispness in the air that lets you know autumn will come after all. For women in particular, along with pumpkin lattes and cozy sweaters, the arrival of fall should also prompt reminders to take care of their health. September is ovarian cancer awareness month and its Why Teal campaign, October breast cancer awareness month with its trademark pink ribbon, and though admittedly stretching into winter, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease in February all focus attention on the fact that these are among the top killers of women in the U.S.
Women are notorious for putting off focusing on their own health, but taking steps to assess disease risk, focusing on the presence of any new symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, and making healthy lifestyle changes are vital. After all, you can’t take care of your family if you have not taken care of yourself. What women also need to remember is to take the time to schedule screening and diagnostic imaging to examine their overall health, and for these three – ovarian and breast cancer and heart disease – new advances in radiologic imaging in recent years can identify early-stage disease before symptoms even occur.
Early detection is key. Ovarian cancer caught in early stages means a 90% survival rate after five years; for breast cancer it’s 93%. Up to 90% of heart attacks are preventable with early diagnosis and treatment.
Envision Imaging, with six locations in the DFW area that offer women’s studies exams, offers dozens of options to patients and physicians to screen for and identify disease.
TEAL (Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer)
Ovarian cancer, for example, has few to no symptoms and is not detected through an annual Pap exam, so ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance (MR) exams are the only ways to diagnose the disease. Patients should know their risk factors and seek treatment immediately if they experience any symptoms (see list below) as these certainly warrant further investigation.
Fortunately, there are screening mammograms for breast cancer, and Envision offers the latest in 3D screening mammography. After the age of 40 or anyone at higher risk (see list below) should schedule a mammogram annually. Envision offers much more than screenings, however. The results from that initial 3D imaging can prompt doctors to investigate breast health further with the use of ultrasound, diagnostic mammography, or breast MRI’s. Full-field digital imaging can now diagnose breast cancer nodules that were undetectable with older systems. Women with dense breast tissue often benefit from these advanced techniques, as they are more likely to develop breast cancer, and dense tissue makes it more difficult to spot cancer on traditional mammograms.
Vascular imaging to examine a patient’s risk of heart attack is a vital part of any assessment of heart health. It can be a “silent disease,” one in which 70% of heart attack patients are considered low clinical risk, 50% do not feel any symptoms before their event, and the average age of sudden coronary death is only 50. Envision offers over 20 options to examine the vascular system, many targeted specifically at cardiovascular function, including ultrasound of the veins and arteries, vein mapping, and coronary CT angiography (CTA).
It may sound like science fiction, but artificial intelligence (AI) has made its way into the world of radiologic imaging to decrease the risk of heart attack, and it can be used well before a patient experiences any symptoms. Envision now offers patients the option to examine their risk beyond traditional CTA. Cleerly uses artificial intelligence to examine the results of CTA to identify high-risk plaques that are often associated with heart attacks. Though not yet approved by most insurers, patients can opt to have their CTA results uploaded to Cleerly’s platform and to get results back usually same day. According to Ron Guillot, Senior Director for Cleerly, “We detect, characterize, and quantify coronary plaque.” He points out that the technique is essentially a diagnostic screening for the heart, in the same way that there are screenings for colon, breast, skin, and lung disease. Using AI, Ron says, “We do in about seven minutes what could take an imaging expert seven to nine hours to do.” After being introduced to the Cleerly procedure, Internal Medicine physician Dr. Ron Colson reports, “I was impressed with the new technology. It is certainly better than that which I have already seen, and I am intrigued to think that this might be useful in my practice going forward.” As women have greatly increased risk of heart attack post menopause, this could be an excellent means of assessing cardiovascular health and perhaps medical intervention to reduce their risk.
Forbes magazine lists the #1 fall trend for this year is the color chartreuse, but teal, pink, and red will always be in style if they are reminders to consider your risk of certain cancers and heart disease. A pumpkin latte on occasion to enjoy the season is a must, but so is taking care of yourself. Eat well and exercise, see your doctor with any concerning or new symptoms, and take advantage of the latest in diagnostic imaging.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
High number of lifetime ovulations
Hormone replacement therapy
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
Feeling the need to urinate urgently and often
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Genetic mutations such as BRCA1 or 2
Menstrual periods before age 12 or after age 55
Personal history of breast cancer or breast disease
Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
Being overweight, especially after menopause
Hormone replacement therapy
Reproductive history – Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy
Breast Cancer Symptoms
New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
Pain in any area of the breast
Heart Disease Risk Factors in Women
Family history of early heart disease
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women (which can be very different than in men)
Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
Shortness of breath
Pain in one or both arms
Nausea or vomiting
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Editor’s Note: For more information about preventative imaging options, visit www.envrad.com.