Breast cancer: CHRISTUS Health stresses importance of early detection


Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in the United States and finding it early can be the difference between life and death.

Breast cancer that is found early and has not spread is easier to successfully treat. CHRISTUS Health emphasizes the importance of early detection and provides resources, procedures and screenings.

A reliable way to find breast cancer in early stages is through regular screenings.

“Breast cancer is one of the few cancers where we have screening guidelines because we know we can catch it early and cure the patient, essentially by getting rid of the tumor,” said Dr. Deepika Ralla, hematologist and oncologist at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center in Shreveport and Bossier Cancer Center. “I don’t want to overemphasize the word cure, but if you catch it early the survival rate is very good.”

Ralla stressed the importance of mammogram screening, an effective tool for early detection of breast cancer.

In addition to traditional mammography, CHRISTUS Health also offers 3D mammography, which is more advanced. A 3D screening captures multiple X-ray images from different angles. The images are reconstructed into a 3D representation of the breast tissue, offering advantages over traditional 2D images.

“The pictures are more clear,” Ralla said. “It’s a better version of looking at the breast tissue to clearly find abnormalities and to see if it’s really abnormal.”

However, Ralla said not all breast cancers are found on a mammogram.

“If you feel a lump and your mammogram is negative, be sure to talk to your doctor because you may need an ultrasound,” she said. “Some cancers are mammogram negative so they might need an ultrasound, an MRI, an evaluation by a surgeon or a biopsy.”

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. In 2024, an estimated 310,720 women and 2,800 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

When caught early, the five-year survival rate for women with localized breast cancer is 99%.

“For early stage, hormone-positive breast cancer, the survival rate is good. But you’re talking about the typical standard breast cancer, the one that feeds on hormones,” Ralla said. “As the stage advances and gets into the lymph nodes, the more lymph nodes involved, the higher chance of the tumor coming back, despite chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy.”

Although not always present, breast cancer symptoms can include:

  • a lump or mass in the breast
  • change in skin texture
  • nipple puckering or discharge
  • swelling or thickness in part of the breast
  • tenderness
  • breast or nipple pain
  • change in size or shape of breast.

“But without any of these symptoms, I would recommend being aware of how your breasts normally feel,” Ralla said. “If there is a lump in the armpit, that is also related to the breast.”

CHRISTUS Health offers an excellent breast cancer screening program, Ralla said.

“They don’t just do the mammogram and let the patient go,” she said. “They follow up on any positive test. Sometimes they may need radiation and pictures and sometimes they may need a biopsy. So, that step is already built into the process.”

National guidelines for breast cancer screening recommend women with average risk to start screening at 40 years old.

“That includes someone with no family history of breast cancer and without a known breast cancer mutation in their genes,” Ralla said. “But if you have a family history of breast cancer, then it would be earlier.”

Treatment options after a breast cancer diagnosis include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“If it’s just the tumor that’s taken out during surgery, then radiation and hormone blocking therapy is usually done to prevent the cancer from coming back,” Ralla said. “If it’s high risk, then they may need chemotherapy followed by surgery and radiation. It depends on the stage; it’s not generalized, it’s custom tailored.”