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Live, Learn, Love: '2020 has actually been a very exciting year for breast cancer research' doctor says

The pandemic has caused some women to postpone routine breast cancer screenings, doctors say don't wait because breast cancer found early is now very treatable.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The pandemic has caused many women to postpone routine cancer screenings. According to Health Care Cost Institute mammograms were down nearly 80% in April and down 20% in July compared to 2019.

Dr. Saranya Chumsri, an oncologist at Mayo Clinic, has started to see patients coming in with more advanced breast cancer.

“We used to see patients with, you know, a couple-centimeter tumor, but now we started to see large like 3, 4 or 5 cm with big lymph node involvement more recently, and some of these patients actually told us that they felt the lump for a while, but they were concerned about getting COVID-19 so they did not come in,” Chumsri explained.

Her advice is don't skip your annual mammogram, and if you find anything abnormal see your doctor right away because breast cancer caught early is very treatable.

“There is actually a lot of new treatment coming out right now,” Chumsri said. “We actually have developed a cancer vaccine that will stimulate a patient's immune response to attack certain antigens in the cancer cells, so we have several trials ongoing right now. So far the treatment has been great. There's not a lot of toxicity.”

Mayo Clinic is currently enrolling patients in several breast cancer vaccine clinical trials.

While vaccine research is ongoing, Dr. Jennifer Crozier, an oncologist with Baptist MD Anderson, which is also enrolling patients in clinical trials, says advancements in treatment mean there are now more treatment options with fewer side effects.

“2020 has actually been a very exciting year for breast cancer research and development," Crozier said. "There have been multiple drugs approved over the last year, over a broad spectrum of different types of breast cancer, new novel therapies, how we're treating patients, also in the world of technology and development of new tests about breast cancer and risk stratification of patients has really evolved even just over the last year."

The key she says is catching breast cancer early.

“The women have on average over 90% cure rate from breast cancer when we're finding it early," Crozier said. "It's very treatable, and most women actually avoid chemotherapy, so a lot of times it can be treated just with surgery, maybe radiation maybe, some anti-estrogen pills, but very treatable."