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Precision medicine allows breast cancer patient to skip chemo

September 30, 2019

Some women don’t ever expect or think about getting breast cancer. Elaine Florczak’s best friend had it, so it was on her radar.

“She made me promise to always get my mammograms,” Elaine says.

At 74, Elaine had retired and moved out of the northwest suburbs to Whitewater, Wisconsin, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to see NCH physicians for her care.

“This year, I had my mammogram set up – I go every May,” Elaine explains. “About a week before my exam, I was in the shower and I felt like I pulled something and then I felt a lump.”

The mammogram and other diagnostic tests done at the NCH Breast Center in Arlington Heights revealed Elaine had stage II invasive lobular carcinoma. In July, she underwent breast conservation lumpectomy surgery with sentinel lymph node biopsy – the most common operation performed by Allyson Jacobson, M.D., Medical Director of the NCH Breast Program.

Precision medicine

“Elaine had a very good result,” Dr. Jacobson explains, adding that precision medicine played a role in allowing her to skip chemotherapy.

Precision medicine looks at cancer’s molecular makeup to understand how it’s going to behave in a patient based on well-designed, mature clinical studies.

“After her surgery, her test came back with a low risk score of 14, so the good news is she had no need for chemotherapy,” says Radiation Oncologist Stephen Nigh, M.D., who oversaw Elaine’s radiation therapy treatments.

“Elaine’s therapy involved C-RAD technology that allows us to line patients up precisely,” Dr. Nigh says. “She had a total of 20 treatments, which she tolerated very well, and is expected to make a full recovery.”

Many specialists at NCH – including technicians, breast patient navigators, radiologists, medical oncologists, pathologists and surgeons – provide multidisciplinary care for patients.

“We all work very closely as a team to care for patients,” Dr. Nigh explains.

Radiation treatments

To help Elaine with her 75-mile commute for treatments, NCH worked her schedule so that she could have late afternoon and early morning appointments, allowing her to spend two nights each week at her daughter’s house in the northwest suburbs and return to her home in Whitewater on days following treatment. Since she enjoys many recreational activities with friends, volunteers at a hospital and spends time with her husband Terry, she appreciated that the treatment schedule worked with her busy lifestyle. Radiation therapy sessions took no longer than a few minutes and were painless.

“They never made me wait, and it was never uncomfortable,” Elaine says. “As scary as this is, it’s better to know what’s happening in your body and get it treated.”

From diagnosis to treatment, Elaine can’t thank the NCH staff and doctors enough, adding that the mammography technician who held her hand knowing she was nervous was the start of a wonderful patient experience.

“I didn’t cry finding out I had breast cancer, but I do cry when I think back to how wonderful everyone was,” Elaine says. “It’s such a testament to the culture at NCH. Everyone was super nice, and I felt very confident that everything was going to be just fine.”

Post-treatment celebration

Elaine finished her therapy in early September and then went on a cruise to the Greek Islands to celebrate the end of her breast cancer journey. Long before she took the trip, she wrote a letter of gratitude to NCH.

“People usually write letters because they don’t like the service,” Elaine says. “You don’t get enough saying ‘thank you.’”

NCH uses low-dose 3D mammography, a new type of digital mammogram shown to increase breast cancer detection and reduce false-positive results. Thin layers of images are taken to create a three-dimensional look at the breast that helps see tumors concealed by overlapping tissue.

Call 847-618-3700 to schedule a mammogram at one of four convenient locations.