RICHMOND, Va. -- A panel of doctors urged women to get checked for breast cancer during The Sisters Network Central Virginia Community Health Forum Saturday.
The annual event, which has previously included a block walk and health fair, continued the group's mission to inform and save lives at Fifth Baptist Church in Richmond.
"There is life after breast cancer. I'm a 19 year survivor,” Zelma Watkins, the event chair and founder, said.
“You care and you want medical information," Watkins told the crowd after admitting that she was a bit nervous about returning to a panel forum for the first time in eight years.
Six doctors shared the latest in treatment advancements, research, clinical trials as well as reconstruction options for breast cancer survivors.
Doctors said women should have a mammogram every year beginning at age 40.
However, women with a history of breast cancer in their family should likely get checked earlier, doctors stressed.
Dr. William J. Irvin Jr., the Director of Clinical Research at Bon Secours Cancer Institute, said one of the youngest patients he has treated was 17 years old.
It turned out that she had a significant family history, including one of the breast cancer genes, but had no idea because it had not been talked about in her family, he said.
That said, most breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women between the ages of 40 and 60, Irvin said.
While family history is a factor for breast cancer, women were advised to focus on the factors they can control: weight and limiting alcohol.
Irvin also stressed the importance of clinical trials, which women at any stage of the fight against breast cancer, may be able to take part in. (Click here to find out about clinical trials happening in your area.)
'Don’t be afraid to get evaluated'
Dr. James Pellicane, Director of Breast Cancer Oncology at Bon Secours Cancer Institute, urged women who feel a lump to see a doctor.
“Don’t be afraid to get evaluated," Pellicane said. "If you feel it — and it doesn’t go away — you need to come see us."
Pellicane also urged women not to suffer if they have breast pain and pointed out that pain is not necessarily an indicator of breast cancer.
"Just because it is painful does not mean it’s not breast cancer," Pellicane said. "Don’t suffer with a painful lump.”
Doctors can conduct a physical exam and possibly ultrasound that specific area to determine if the lump is a harmless cyst.
Pellicane also told attendees that nipple discharge (in both breasts) is also not an indicator of breast cancer.
“Don’t worry, but please let us check it," he said.
Additionally, nipple inversion is also usually not cancer-related.
The panel also took questions from the audience.
One woman dealing with a worrisome lump for two years who was told it was "OK" by her doctor, was urged to get a second option -- and a biopsy.
“Be your own advocate,” Pellicane urged.
WTVR CBS 6 anchor Reba Hollingsworth returned as the event's emcee.