Amy Comander, MD specializes in the care of women with breast cancer at the Mass General Cancer Center in Waltham and Newton-Wellesley. Learn more about Dr. Comander and the life-changing work she participates in each day to support those impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis from treatment to survivorship.
What advice do you have for women during Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
Since it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to convey one critical message to all women: get your mammogram! I know that's something we all know we should do but given all the stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic—many women, unfortunately, have missed the mammographic screening. All “non-essential” tests were canceled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Since that time, our hospitals have adopted policies to make mammographic screening much more efficient, comfortable, and safe for everyone. However, there is still a lag in screening, and there is concern that cancers will be diagnosed at a later stage and have poorer clinical outcomes. My number one message to women: “Please take care of yourself and get your mammogram.”
Why is early detection so crucial for women, especially women with risk factors?
Since the adoption of mammographic screening in the late 1980s, there has been a significant decline in the risk of dying from breast cancer, and this is largely due to early detection of breast cancer through mammographic screening. Breast cancer is often more treatable when detected early, which means, hopefully, less invasive surgery and a less intensive program in terms of chemotherapy and other treatments. We strongly encourage all women to adhere to screening guidelines and discuss with their PCP or gynecologist.
Are there any proactive l measures that women can take to fight breast cancer?
All women should be aware of family history on both their maternal and paternal sides, with particular attention to a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer. Individuals with these cancers in their families may have a hereditary predisposing gene that could increase the risk of breast cancer development. In particular, a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer in more than one first-degree relative is significant. Those women certainly should meet with a doctor early on to discuss genetic testing and counseling.
How does your work impact the family and friends of your patients?
When an individual receives a cancer diagnosis, that is life-changing for the patient and her support network. For each patient we see, we ensure that we are educating not only the patient, but also her family or caregiver, and we also provide additional resources and support for our patients who have children. We take care of the patient and think very carefully about what type of support system she has in place.
What message do you have for individuals impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis?
In 2021, we are witnessing amazing breakthroughs in breast cancer. We now have exciting techniques that provide insight into the genomic profile a tumor, and we can then select specific therapies that can treat that specific type of breast cancer. I feel it is very important to instill hope in our patients about the progress we have made, and continue to make, in the treatment of breast cancer. At any stage, a breast cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming; however, I want people to know that given these many exciting advances, it is important to maintain a sense of hope and optimism, since we continue to make great strides.