DR. Linda Schicker

No substitute for self exams, says local doctor

Published Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00pm

For Dr. Linda Schicker, she can never tell women too often or stress enough the importance of performing self breast exams and getting yearly mammograms.

Schicker, of Mohawk Valley Radiation Medicine, 107 E. Chestnut St., Suite 103, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last month, is a radiologist associated with Rome Memorial Hospital. She received her medical degree from the University of Nevada School of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

And she is a staunch advocate for women and women’s health.

Normally, the radiologist said she will see women after a mammogram has detected an abnormality or after they have just been diagnosed with cancer. A biopsy is then performed on the tissue, possibly on the lymph nodes as well.

If a biopsy detects cancer, Schicker will go over women’s options — which are greatly enhanced when diagnosis is made early, which is where the self-examinations come in. While some women may find it difficult to get into the routine of performing self-examinations, early detection saves lives.

Depending on the cancer’s type and stage, some women may opt for a full mastectomy, while others a partial mastectomy with
radiation or lumpectomy with radiation treatments.

In recent years, radiation treatments have become shorter, with less side effects, she said. Treatments that once took six weeks are now cut in half.

“It’s a shorter course of radiation, but it’s just as effective,” Schicker said.

During treatments given over three weeks, “women are less tired and there is less of a skin reaction,” she said. While the best approach to treatment of breast cancer involves the entire body, there is also the emotional side of diagnosis. Schicker said she likes to talk to her patients first to help alleviate any anxiety and answer questions patients may have about their treatment. Before going over treatment options, she also discusses personal and family medical history.

“When some women come in, they are completely terrified and then I use all kinds of language they’ve never heard before — this arena of medical jargon — and it can be intimidating,” Schicker said. “That’s why appointments are usually about two hours. Initially we talk to help calm the patient. I’ll ask them to tell me how it happened — many may say something abnormal showed up on their mammogram. Then I go into the series of steps” for treatment “and I get information about their (medical) history.”

The radiologist said even learning a family’s medical history is critical to knowing what approach to take for treatment because sometimes breast cancer is genetically linked.

It’s possible women can test positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 — genes that
produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.

“If they (patients) start telling me I’ve had 2-3 women in the family diagnosed with breast cancer, then I may recommend a hysterectomy or a mastectomy on both sides” because of the risk factors, Schicker said. “If they have lupus, I might not be able to treat them. Knowing this information is crucial to treatment or I can make terrible mistakes.”

After discussing all the options, Schicker said she will perform a physical examination on the patient and then she will have the patient, along with their family members, sit down for 20-30 minutes so that they may ask any questions they may have.

But the radiologist said she could not stress enough the importance of early detection and for women to perform self breast exams so that they are familiar with their bodies.

“Breast cancer is the most curable, it just needs to be caught soon enough,” Schicker said. “You need to do breast exams so you know what the baseline is so you notice if something changes.”

If a woman finds a lump or abnormality, they should see their doctor right away “and talk about what you have,” she said. “Sometimes you may notice something” in a self exam “that a mammogram doesn’t pick up.”