BRA Day event

SIU Medicine to address breast cancer disparities at CAP 1908

Published Date:

Black women have a 4 percent lower rate of breast cancer compared to white women, yet a 40 percent higher breast cancer death rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

SIU Medicine is hosting an event to educate women, especially those in the Black community, about early detection, breast cancer screenings, advocating for care, supporting others who have breast cancer and options for breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. The community awareness gathering begins at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, October 18, at CAP 1908, 1100 S. Grand Ave. E., Springfield.

A panel of experts will discuss wellness measures for women. Presenters include: 

•    Erica Austin, breast reconstruction patient and Deputy Director, SIU Medicine Office of External Relations & Behavioral Health Workforce Center 
•    Wendi El-Amin, MD, Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SIU Medicine 
•    Cynthia Thomas, MD, Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine 
•    Nicole Florence, MD, Medical Director and Bariatrician, Memorial Wellness Center 
•    Nicole Sommer, MD, Director, SIU Medicine Cosmetic Clinic and Plastic Surgeon 

"Open, authentic conversations and addressing the barriers that create racial disparities in our community can play a critical role in reducing these rates," said Wendi EI-Amin, MD, a family medicine physician and the associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at SIU Medicine. "The health care system itself often can be a barrier to African-American women seeking and receiving timely, appropriate screening and care, which could dangerously delay a potential breast cancer diagnosis."

On June 2, SIU Medicine employee and Springfield District 186 School Board Member Erica Austin was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two months later, she underwent oncoplastic breast reduction surgery. A documentary short of her journey will be a component of the event.

“I’m grateful that my doctors listened to me and are helping me through my breast cancer journey in the way I advocated for myself,” Austin said. “But, I know a lot of people in the Black community have a hesitancy to even go to the doctor. I hope that my story can help them seek the care they want and need.”

“Many women aren’t told and don’t know that breast reconstruction is an option, or that insurance must cover the cost of reconstruction,” said Nicole Sommer, MD, a plastic surgeon at SIU Medicine who specializes in breast reconstruction. While many women have reconstructive surgery to balance the look of their breasts, sometimes reconstruction offers the opportunity to remove painful scars from the original surgery or reconstruct the nipple.

Women who have larger breasts may also opt for oncoplastic breast reduction. Dr. Sommer performed this lesser-known procedure immediately after Austin had a cancerous tumor removed from her left breast. Oncoplastic breast reduction combines a traditional lumpectomy – removal of the cancerous tumor and surrounding tissue – with a standard breast reduction. This technique involves surgery on both breasts to make them look similar. The surgery not only helps reduce any deformities caused by the lumpectomy, but is also a preventative measure, reducing the amount of breast tissue that could later become cancerous. Additionally, combining the surgeries allows the patient a single recovery period.

“Oncoplastic breast reduction is an excellent option for many women who want to avoid a mastectomy,” said Sommer. Breast reconstruction surgery after breast cancer is considered a reconstructive procedure and is covered by health insurance, regardless of when a woman chooses to undergo reconstructive surgery.

During Breast Cancer Awareness month, October 18 is set aside for Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. “BRA Day inspires women to know that they have options, and life beyond breast cancer can be amazing. Thanks to my surgeons, I’m proof of that,” said Austin.

BRA Day is a collaboration between the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Plastic Surgery Foundation, plastic surgeons specializing in breast surgery, corporate partners and breast cancer support groups. 

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