Breast Cancer – A Plan For Prevention

IU Health offers an ongoing plan for women who are at a risk for breast cancer.

Maybe they have a family history, or they have had “watch spots” in the past. There are a variety of reasons that some women may need close monitoring for breast cancer. For Jennifer Harley it was a particular cell pattern that showed up on a biopsy that was done because of changes in her mammogram.

Harley has been a nurse at IU Health since 1985 so she knows how important it is to pay attention to all the signs. When it came to her own health, she wasn’t going to ignore valuable information. In her mind, it meant early detection, early intervention.

The cell pattern suggested something unusual so Harley was referred for a biopsy.

“The biopsy wasn’t malignant but it showed a cell pattern that put me in a high risk group for breast cancer,” said Harley. “The likelihood of diagnosis goes up more than the average person so they recommended intervention.” That was in 2015.

Since then she has been part of a prevention program that is similar to someone who had breast cancer and is five-years post treatment. Working closely with IU Health nurse practitioner Sarah Bennett she receives an estrogen suppressant, and mammograms every six months, followed by an MRI.

“They are keeping an eye, watching for tumor development,” said Harley. “They talk to me about what research has shown and why it’s important to do more than just watch. It’s not even considered precancerous, it’s just that we have experts here that can determine the risk factors based on the cell pattern,” said Harely, who spent 25 years of her career working in oncology at Riley Hospital. 

“A lot of what you can’t prevent in pediatric cancer, you can in adults – stay out of the sun, stop smoking, lose weight. I see this as one more opportunity to prevent a diagnosis of breast cancer,” said Harley. “It gives me a peace of mind and it is encouraging to know there’s a treatment plan in place and we are the kind of center that can provide that for our patients.”

The prevention program is part of an overall treatment plan that begins at the point of the breast screening. It can include consulting on diet and weight loss, genetic counseling and ongoing evaluation of blood markers – all part of a program that helps women take an active role in their health care and reduce their risks.

Harley has three sisters and even though there is no history of breast cancer in her family, she said it was helpful to be able to share the prevention plant with her siblings.

More about Harley:

  • Her mother was a nurse so she had an early interest in pursuing nursing. She completed her undergraduate degree at Ball State University and her Masters degree from the University of Kentucky.
  • What she likes best about being a nurse educator: “The opportunity to both encourage new nurses, help them be successful, and to help ensure best practices which makes for best patient care.”
  • Outside the hospital: Harley is involved with orphan ministry. She has traveled to Russia and also helps locally through her church.

 — T.J. Banes,