When Dr. Dona Hobart was in her mid-30′s, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system that develops from abnormal lymphocytes. It was treated and went into remission but returned when she was 38.
Now, as a breast cancer surgeon, she says she can relate to what her patients are going through, because she’s been there.
“When I tell my patients, ‘You will make it,’ I can back it up,” she said. “When I say, ‘I know how you are feeling,’ I do. I had a bone-marrow transplant. I’ve been bald twice. I have understanding and validity.”
Dona Hobart, M.D. is a breast surgeon and medical director of the Center for Breast Health at Carroll Hospital, and the Herman and Walter Samuelson Center for Breast Health at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, so October is an important month for her. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s not only a reminder for women to get their mammograms it’s also a good time to spotlight advances in medical science and the hope they bring. Dr. Hobart has been in the field long enough to see progress firsthand.
“We are actually in a very exciting time for breast care and breast cancer,” she shared. “There are so many technological advances going on now. It used to be that we would get a new chemotherapy every four or five years or so, but now we get one about every six months. In addition, technological advances on how we image and find cancers and how we follow them make this an exciting time. We are at a time when patients are doing well with breast cancers as long as we find them early. We have a way to go, but we are at a good place now.”
The single most important thing women can do, the doctor says, is to get regular mammograms, but she added that mammograms are not the only diagnostic tool used today.
“We are moving away from the one size fits all model for cancer screenings,” she said. “We look at family history, breast density, weight and other factors. If you don’t have dense breasts or a family history of cancer, a mammogram once a year is okay. But if it runs in your family you need to have a personalized calculation of risk so we can decide which imaging to use. 3D mammograms are better, and most insurances do pay for them at this point. For high-risk patients, we can add the component of a breast MRI, which is the best.”
According to Dr. Hobart, obesity is a significant risk factor, but there are other things to consider as well, such as alcohol consumption, whether or not you have had hormone replacement in your history, how frequently you exercise, and how early menstruation started, with later being better.
“We use the Tyrer-Cuzick model,” she said.
The Tyrer-Cuzick model is a breast cancer risk assessment tool that incorporates family history, endogenous hormonal factors, benign disease, and other risk factors such as age and body mass index, as well as genetic factors to determine a patient’s risk.
“It is online and is a calculator for your risk that anyone can access,” the doctor said, “but you do need to know your breast density and other factors.
Dr. Hobart stressed the importance of early detection and shared how she has seen it save lives.
“We screen a fairly large population of high-risk women. In a handful of times in the past few years we have found a small cancer in an MRI screening,” she said. “When that happens, we are dealing with a tiny cancer, a blip on the screen that we can take it out and they do very well. If you are in a low stage the changes of survival are 90 to 95 percent. That cancer could have been there for another whole year if the patient was only getting mammograms.”
One of the more important changes that the doctor has witnessed is the move to treat the whole patient, instead of just the cancer.
“We used to simply deal with the breast,” she said. “Now we deal with the mind, the body, the spirit. We have all kinds of programs for women. It requires a whole team to care for the whole patient and I am so lucky that we have those teams at both of the centers where I work.”
According to Dr. Hobart, important moves take place after the patient has gone through treatment.
“It is about supporting the quality of life,” she said. “We can even set patients up with others who have gone through it.”
She spoke of a program called Embrace Wellness — a 12-week nutrition and health program for survivors.
“This is a way to reset, to lose a little weight, exercise a little more, and to eat healthier. It’s small but meaningful changes that you can maintain, rather than huge things you do the first of the year and then stop. These are the changes that are best.”
As a reminder during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Hobart had this advice:
“It’s most important to pay attention to your body,” she said. “Do your screenings, your mammograms. Then, pay attention to your overall health. [Staying healthy] can decrease your risk of not only having breast cancer, but other cancers. Make slow changes. And, if you question your risk, we are always happy to see you in the office where we can evaluate you and discuss how we feel you should proceed.”
She also spoke of how important the Carroll County community is to her.
“It’s important for me to say thank you to the community,” she said. “Carroll County is a great county to work in and I am grateful to my patients and the people. It really feeds my soul.”
Important Upcoming Campaigns:
- On Nov.10, get your mammogram at Lifebridge Health’s Mammothon, held at select Advanced Radiology locations (including Westminster, Eldersburg and Mt. Airy). Learn more at: www.lifebridgehealth.org/LBHmammothon/LBHMammothon.aspx
- Donate to October’s Pink Fling and you’ll help pay for programs and assistance not paid for by insurance. If you go to: Carrollpinkfling.org all donations will support local patients.