Dr. Christi Witherspoon got into her line of work as a board-certified internal medicine physician because of her belief that doing small but proactive things makes a big difference in one’s health.

“Partnering with patients in things like (holistic healthcare) is a very exciting thing to me because I think that having a healthy community is essential to having a functional community,” said Witherspoon, who lives and has practiced medicine in Nashville for 20 years, currently with Heritage Medical Associates at TriStar Summit Medical Center.

One of her passions is breast cancer awareness and prevention, especially after a year of COVID-19. Her passion for proactive care is understandable. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, and one in eight women develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes.

Witherspoon said she was frightened by the 90 percent decline in breast cancer screenings last April. There was a point during which her team stopped doing mammograms, and many patients canceled their screenings.

“It wasn’t even a matter of we’re holding off on this; a lot of people were calling in and canceling because they were afraid to come in (and) be exposed potentially to the virus,” she said.

The Memphis native and her team continue their work to raise awareness and get patients back in the office for a screening.

She pointed out that patients should wait four to six weeks after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to have a mammogram. In some people, the vaccine causes slight swelling of the lymph nodes, a sign of breast cancer, so it’s important to wait those four to six weeks, to prevent a false positive.

Witherspoon named some concerning early symptoms of breast cancer: swelling of any or all parts of the breast, skin dimpling, any changes in the skin or nipple, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge in a woman not breastfeeding, or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit area. If a patient is experiencing any of these symptoms, she should contact her doctor.

She touched on risk factors associated with breast cancer: postmenopausal obesity, diets high in saturated fats, lack of exercise, and alcohol consumption over the recommended one drink a day for women. She also noted the common factors of age and family history of breast cancer.

“Age is something that we can’t really do anything about. It’s like a nonmodifiable risk factor, but I do want people to know that getting older is a risk factor, and obviously there are inheritable forms of breast cancer, but by far and large, those are not the most common ones,” she said.

Simple ways to lower one’s risk of breast cancer include eating more vegetables, whole foods, and foods high in Omega-3’s; limiting the consumption of saturated fats; and regular exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75-150 minutes of high intensity exercise each week for adults.

Although guidelines vary, Witherspoon said the American Cancer Society and the United States Preventive Service Taskforce recommend women ages 50 and older get screened at least every other year. She noted that, regardless of a patient’s age, breast cancer prevention should be individualized for everyone.

Whether a patient has a family history of breast cancer, is 40 years old, or is over 50 and a healthy individual, Witherspoon was adamant: “Get in there, get screened, have a conversation with your doctor.”

For more information, Dr. Witherspoon suggests The American Cancer Society website (cancer.org). She said she wants people to understand that although advancing age is a fact of life, being proactive with one’s health is the best way to avoid complications. She stands by the motto, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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