Chestnut Hill Hospital doctor leads advances in breast cancer treatment

By April Lisante
Posted 10/8/20

Fighting breast cancer is nothing like it used to be.

Gone are the days when all hope was lost early on or chemotherapy was the only course of care.

Thanks to medical breakthroughs and the work …

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Chestnut Hill Hospital doctor leads advances in breast cancer treatment

Posted

Fighting breast cancer is nothing like it used to be.

Gone are the days when all hope was lost early on or chemotherapy was the only course of care.

Thanks to medical breakthroughs and the work of local breast surgery oncologists like Dr. Amanda Woodworth, women have more treatment options, more preventative genetic screening, and more individual care to fight the killer.

Woodworth, the Regional Director of Breast Services at the Chestnut Hill Hospital-Tower Health Women’s Center, can actually imagine that one day in the future, her job as a breast surgery oncologist may become obsolete.

Woodworth studied at the Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y. before doing her residency at Einstein Hospital and her fellowship at the University of Southern California, and was in the Department of Surgery at Drexel Division of Breast Health before coming to Chestnut Hill in 2018. She has dedicated her career to helping women find individually tailored treatment options, taking into account everything from genetic history to integrative medical practices.

“Medical oncologists have so many amazing regimens now,” Woodworth said. “In the future, I may not operate on [patients] I may only biopsy them.”

As we mark breast cancer awareness during the month of October, one of the most critically important messages Woodworth wants to send is that despite COVID-19, women over the age of 40 must continue to get annual mammograms. So many individuals have put off routine annual medical treatments during the pandemic, from dental cleanings to physicals to heart care. Doctors worry that if mammograms are not done annually, they will miss vital opportunities to catch breast cancer early on.

Contrary to certain guidelines which once stated women should go every other year or so, mammograms should be annual and should be included in the list of medical appointments women need to make, Woodworth said.

“We’ve been able to pick up smaller cancers [with annual mammograms],” Woodworth stressed. Without annual mammograms “we would miss triple negative cancer, or they will be metastatic before we catch them. We could go backward.”

The statistics prove how critical the mammograms can be. At the Chestnut Hill Hospital–Tower Health Women’s Center, 11,000 to 12,000 3D mammograms are performed each year, and another 3,500 are done at the hospital’s Blue Bell office. Of those total screenings, 20% of patients will be called back in for another mammogram or ultrasound to check a questionable result. Of those patients, 20% will need a biopsy, and of those, 20 to 30% will be diagnosed with malignancies. That means Woodworth and doctors there catch about 100 to 125 malignant cancers a year just from routine screenings.

All breast cancers used to be treated as if they were the same. Now, doctors look at the individual biology of the tumors, as well as the different types of breast cancer.

Once a cancer is detected, doctors have an arsenal of new ways to treat it. They now integrate Eastern and Western medicine to address both physical and mental issues women experience. Women are guided in some cases toward healing touch, Reiki - an alternative medicine involving energy healing – as well as counselling and even supplements.

Medical treatment becomes incredibly specific to that individual based upon the biology of their tumors. Not everyone will need chemotherapy or surgery. Doctors have fcused much of their research on the triple negative breast cancer often seen in younger patients. This cancer’s growth is not triggered by hormones and does not respond to treatment in the same way as other cancers.

Doctors can do genetic screening, preventative screening, and sometimes a round of chemotherapy first, before operating on the cancer. They also use immunotherapy to target specific proteins in the cancer cells, or use other medications streamlined for an individual’s body. The options are endless – and more hopeful than ever.

“We can tailor screenings, like if someone has dense breast tissue or a family history, we can order annual MRIs,” Woodworth said. “And if someone carries a genetic mutation, there are guidelines now we can follow to an individualized treatment plan to catch or prevent it.

“We’ve come a long way,” Woodworth said. “By the time we get to surgery, all the cancer cells may be dead when we remove them.

Woodworth is pleased to say that most of her patients have a positive prognosis from the start to finish of treatment. For her, it is not just about treating cancer, but curing it. She specifically went into the breast cancer field because she finds that her long-term relationships with patients are the most rewarding.

“The relationship between a patient and a breast surgeon, there is no other relationship like that,” said Woodworth. “You develop a really close relationship, sometimes five years. It brings women through the worst time in their lives.”

For more information about the Chestnut Hill Hospital’s Women’s Center, call 215-248-3100.

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