Insights from a breast cancer surgeon, survivor

click to enlarge Insights from a breast cancer surgeon, survivor
Dr. Karen J. Hendershott, FACS is a fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist who also completed a research fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she was named the chief academic fellow. Previously, she was an assistant professor of surgery and assistant residency program director at Cooper University Hospital where she was an award-winning educator. She then worked as an attending surgeon at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Hendershott has multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals and has presented at national surgical conferences. She is board certified, is a fellow with the American College of Surgeons, has fellowship training in breast surgical oncology from Maimonides Medical Center, and has 15 years of experience specializing in the care of breast patients. Hendershott specializes in the surgical management of genetic, familial and triple-negative breast cancers and has a special interest in invasive lobular cancers. She has additional training in the performance of oncoplastic techniques to maximize cosmetic outcomes in breast conservation surgery. In addition to nipple-sparing mastectomies, she offers “aesthetically flat” mastectomy scars using complex closures and performs goldilocks procedures in women desiring breast mounds without formal reconstruction.

Breast cancer is a disease that affects millions of women and men worldwide. As a breast cancer surgeon at Arizona Oncology — and a survivor of the disease myself — here are five essential things you should know about breast cancer.

1. Early detection is key

Finding breast cancer at an earlier stage sets you up for the best outcomes and may allow you to skip more aggressive treatments. The best way to find early breast cancer is through regular mammograms. For most women, you should start yearly mammograms at age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer at an early age or if you have a genetic mutation that puts you at high risk for breast cancer, you should discuss this with your doctor, as you may need to begin imaging sooner. Recent studies suggest that this is particularly important for Black women who are at higher risk of getting more aggressive breast cancers at a younger age.

2. Not all breast cancer is found on mammograms

While mammograms are the best way to find early breast cancers, they aren’t 100% accurate, and those with dense breast tissue have a higher chance of a cancer being missed on a mammogram. Breast cancer can present with a mass, skin changes such as thickening of the nipple area, dimpling or pulling in of the skin and changing of the shape of the breast. In addition, new nipple discharge that leaks out on its own may be a sign of breast cancer — particularly if it is bloody. Pay attention to your body and let your doctor know if you have changes in the breasts that last more than four to six weeks. Get evaluated even if you have had a recent mammogram.

3. Know your risk factors

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. These include age, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, certain genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2), early menstruation or late menopause and having your first child at an older age. Knowing your risk can help you make informed decisions with your doctor about screening and prevention strategies.

4. Treatment is individualized

Breast cancer is not a one-size-fits-all disease. There are different types and stages of breast cancer, and each requires a different treatment approach. These days, we have very effective treatments for specific types of breast cancer and will individualize the approach for each patient.

5. Emotional support is crucial

Breast cancer doesn’t just impact the body, and everyone responds to a new diagnosis differently. Many people will struggle with fear, anxiety and depression. If you are struggling, it is important to seek emotional support during this time. This can come from friends and family, support groups, mental health professionals or online communities. Arizona Oncology recognizes the need for emotional support and is fully staffed with a team of social workers and staff who regularly schedule patient support groups, journaling sessions, meditation classes, art classes and more.

While nobody ever wants to get a cancer diagnosis, it is important to know that most people who have faced breast cancer completely recover and go on to live full lives. I’m happy to report that I am one of them! The best chance of that happening is if the breast cancer is caught early and you receive individualized care that puts you at the best shot at a cure. For more information about breast cancer, diagnosis, prevention and more, visit