Dr. Winnie Leung, a General Surgeon with a clinical focus on breast cancer and diseases at Scarborough Health Network (SHN), discusses the importance of breast health awareness for women in Scarborough. In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she gave us tips and important information on breast health.

  1. What advice would you give to women in Scarborough when it comes to their breast health?

Keep up with your routine screening with mammography as recommended. For most women of average risk, this means a mammogram once every two years, or if you have a personal history or other risk factors, once per year. Get to know what your normal breasts feel like to you. Many new cancer patients we see feel or see a change that is new and persistent. Ignoring a change that could be cancer can lead to a delayed diagnosis and the requirement for more extensive treatments. Do not be afraid to tell your family doctor about a change in your breast. It may be nothing or just a cyst, but if it is cancer, know that we are winning the battle against this disease. We can cure upwards of 86% of all breast cancers, so the sooner you get diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.

2. What Sets SHN apart from other hospitals in terms of the care we provide regarding Breast Health and our CIBC Breast Clinic?

The CIBC Breast Clinic at SHN and the surgeons, oncologists, nurses and allied healthcare professionals that work here are incredibly knowledgeable, skilled and experienced. We like to think of the Clinic as a “one-stop shop” where we can navigate a patient from diagnosis and investigations to treatment and recovery in a caring, streamlined flow. We are focused on one disease, and we all do this day in and day out.  

Our team consists of surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, mental health professionals, diagnostic imaging technicians and radiologists, pathologists, and other essential staff. It’s an incredibly comprehensive group. This allows us to confidently treat patients and reassure them that all aspects of their care will be dealt with once they walk into the Breast Clinic doors. 

3. What are the main symptoms women should look out for regarding breast cancer? How can women stay on top of their breast health?

 Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women today – 1 in 8 women will develop it in their lifetime. However, SHN has good screening tests for this, and we have effective treatments. Women should follow screening guidelines that their doctors recommend and not be afraid to bring up any concerns or breast issues they may be having with their Family Doctors – especially if they feel a lump in their breast, any skin changes or discharge. 

4. Because of donor support, we can make diagnostic imaging and breast health awareness one of our top priorities. How important is it that we have donor and community support for healthcare in Scarborough?

Because this diagnosis affects so many women and their families, we have a responsibility to patients to ensure that the most advanced and up-to-date care and treatments for our patients are available close to home. Scarborough patients deserve no less. Breast cancer research has evolved at a breakneck pace, and even in the last 3-5 years, there have been dramatic shifts in treatment – in surgery, chemotherapy, medical and radiation treatment. Significant resources are needed to keep up and be on the cutting edge of these advances.

This is where donor and community support is critical. For example, we have recently introduced a new technology to help us surgically remove some very small cancers with greater accuracy and smaller incisions. But the equipment to purchase this whole new technology is very costly. SHN is forging ahead despite the costs as we recognize the advantages to our patients – but, without donor support, the funding will be difficult. 

5. What is your favourite thing about the community we serve, and what do you think makes Scarborough so special?

SHN and the community we serve are incredibly unique in their diversity and makeup. I’ve met colleagues from all across Canada and in the US and compared notes on our respective hospital communities. I would say that the diversity that we encounter in our daily practice is second to none, and that makes our job not only interesting but more rewarding. I’ve learned so much about various cultures through years of caring for my patients. This awareness of various cultural approaches and attitudes towards health and wellness informs my interactions with my patients and their families daily. This is true of almost all the physicians, nurses and hospital staff at SHN. 

Our diverse community enriches our understanding of differing cultural norms towards medicine and healing – and this allows all of us to better serve our community in return.