By Suzanne Hoekstra, MD, FACS
I am a breast surgeon at Northern Light Mercy Breast Care, which was first established in 1996. Over the years, I have seen advances in breast health that have helped save many lives. October is Breast Care Awareness month, and this year it happens to coincide with my medical practice’s 25th anniversary. As I reflect, I am amazed at the strides we’ve made to address this disease that continues to affect far too many people.
In the past, patients diagnosed with breast cancer faced difficulty finding comprehensive, multidisciplinary care. Digital mammography did not exist 25 years ago, and patients carried their films around in large envelopes. Similarly, there were no electronic records, and paper charts were passed among providers and offices. The human genome was still a mystery, and specialized cancer tests and drugs were not yet developed. Breast cancer survival hovered around 85%, which was an improvement from previous decades.
In contrast, in 2021, all imaging and chart information is computerized, and clinicians carry their laptops or smartphones with them to access the information. Genetic testing is frequently performed for patients diagnosed with cancer as well as for those who are at risk for cancer, and dozens more genes have been identified. Cancer treatments are now individualized with specific medications. Most importantly, survival for breast cancer has increased to over 90%.
But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our breast care practice’s commitment to serving patients with a personalized, team approach. The difference today is that we now have even more advanced technology and treatments available.
Mercy now offers state of the art imaging, including 3D mammography, ultrasound, and MRI. A more recent addition to the services we provide is our High Risk and Genetics Clinic that identifies potentially high risk patients through mammography. And our surgeons perform the most updated procedures, including ones that can improve the appearance of the breast or the reconstruction of it in a very natural way.
In addition, more medications have been developed that work differently than chemotherapy. New methods of reducing side effects are used regularly. We work closely with our colleagues from radiation oncology and plastic surgery to provide the best care for our patients. And our nurse navigators are available at multiple points throughout the care journey to guide and educate patients.
Since 2011, our breast center has been nationally accredited, which requires adherence to 28 national care standards. One of the many ways we ensure that patients receive optimal care is through our biweekly multidisciplinary breast conferences. When our entire team convenes for these meetings, each person’s case is reviewed and discussed, ensuring that patients receive the most comprehensive and coordinated care recommendations possible. The team at Northern Light Mercy Breast Care is proud to have provided care to the community these past 25 years, and we all look forward to even more medical and technological advances in the years ahead to further improve the health of our communities.
Dr. Hoekstra practices at Northern Light Mercy Breast Care, a nationally accredited breast care center