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Breast cancer roundtable tells tales of survivorship in the Harlem Valley

HUDSON VALLEY — Even as the health community struggles to keep COVID cases at bay — with a new Omicron variant recently introducing itself, virus numbers are on the decline yet as of last week the country is still at its highest rate since the pandemic began. That's why women throughout the region are being reminded of the urgency of keeping on top of their own health and that the risks for breast cancer have not gone away.

That critical message was repeated at a virtual breast cancer roundtable organized by the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation and Nuvance Health on Monday, Jan. 24.

The online roundtable went live at 1 p.m. via the “Nuvance Health” Facebook page. Welcoming women and men alike, Miles of Hope Board Chairman Brian Powers moderated, outlining Miles of Hope’s mission to fund support services, education and outreach for people affected by breast cancer within the Hudson Valley’s nine counties.

Roundtable participants

Each of the roundtable’s four panelists — including New York State Senator Sue Serino (R-41) and Nuvance Health oncologists Susan Boolbol, Lisa Curcio and Radhika Rachamalla — introduced themselves and shared how breast cancer has personally affected their lives.

In the next 50 minutes, Powers relayed questions about breast cancer screenings, risks, survivorship and other topics to the four speakers.

Mammogram basics

Acknowledging the controversy and confusion around what age people should start getting mammograms, Boolbol said it all depends on a person’s risk.

For “average risk people,” Boolbol said start getting mammograms at age 40 annually.

The first question every man or woman going in for the test should ask is if there are 3-D mammograms available because “we want to make sure that all patients are getting state-of-the-art high-quality care.”

Curcio responded to if  people should have concerns when they get a mammogram. A breast cancer survivor herself, the doctor stressed that any fears about taking the diagnostic test — especially during the current health crisis — should be outweighed by the fear of dying from a disease as deadly as breast cancer.

“I think what we saw during the early stages of the pandemic is a lot of people were fearful going for their mammograms,” Curcio said, “and so they delayed [getting them], and what we really truly did see is people were being diagnosed with later stages breast cancer.”

Can’t get COVID

from a mammography

The oncologist added the error of such decision-making has been proven, and could be fatal.

“I think that a lot of the data that COVID-19 could be obtained by actually getting your mammogram and being exposed to the mammogram machine has been debunked,” Curcio said, “and I think the risks are very, very minimal or non-existent and so we encourage people not to delay their screening just because of the pandemic.”

Dense tissue increases risk

Patients with dense breast tissue should talk to their physicians since it can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. Boolbol praised the legislation passed in New York State requiring breast density be mentioned on mammogram reports.

There are many risk factors, like age, weight, alcohol consumption and smoking, one's age when they began and ended their menstrual cycle, and a significant family history of breast cancer.

After diagnosis, treatment

The oncologists highlighted the kind of treatments and support services available to patients while Serino talked about her own experience. She announced her diagnosis in July 2020 to encourage women to get mammograms. Serino bravely shared her journey as she went through her treatment, and then later, happily, news of her remission.


Regarding the battle with disease and post-treatment, Curcio said survivorship addresses short- and long-term side effects and optimizing health so the disease never returns.

“It looks at the whole patient,” she said, “We want to optimize their life after breast cancer and get them back to a point where they look forward to life."

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