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Assessing the Risk of Breast Cancer

Treating breast cancer is one thing.  Figuring out if you’re at a higher risk of developing it is another, and a new clinic at Geisinger aims to help women do just that.

Jody Shepperson has worked at Geisinger Medical Center near Danville for 34 years as a colorectal nurse specialist.  She started getting regular mammograms when she was 35, knowing that since her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50, she herself was at a higher risk.

“As the years went by, I kinda went through this period when I wasn’t getting mammograms.  I was nervous- what I don’t know won’t hurt me!  Even though that was the patient side of me.  As a nurse, I knew better,” said Jody.


And sure enough, a recent biopsy wasn’t all clear.

“The calcifications were not cancerous, but we found out through that biopsy the tissue surrounding them put me at a higher risk for cancer because there were some abnormal cells that would not show up on a mammogram,” she remembers.

Jody isn’t just an employee at Geisinger.  She’s also one of the first patients at the hospital system’s new Comprehensive Breast Program, run by physicians assistants, headed up by Dr. Rosemary Leeming.

“The purpose of that clinic is to be able to do a risk assessment, and to be able to calculate what their risk of getting breast cancer is,” Dr. Leeming said.

Dr. Leeming, who is relatively new to Geisinger, thought the system could benefit by having a better way to reach women who don’t have breast cancer, but who do need guidance and perhaps closer monitoring.  The clinic strives to look at each individual case, many times- as with Jody- putting people at ease about where they are in terms of risk.

“Her risk is not that high.  But it’s certainly higher than average.  And there are things we can do,” Dr. Leeming noted.

Some of those things include the addition of MRIs with mammograms, or in some cases medication.  Dr. Leeming stresses that each woman’s case is different.


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