Early detection saves lives
Doctor dedicates career to reading mammograms
Radiologist Dr. S. Lakshmi Perni could have hung up the white lab coat years ago. The same for her husband, Veeraiah, an anesthesiologist and medical director of research at Western Reserve Health Education.
“I enjoy what I do. He’s enjoying what he does,” said Perni, who also is involved in a laundry list worth of volunteer work. “I’m still working to help the community. As long as you can help people, keep helping.”
The Liberty woman is in her 36th year of practice as the only female diagnostic radiologist in the area who is dedicated solely to mammography.
She is the medical director at the Center for Breast Health at Steward Health Center just over the Trumbull County line in Austintown, and draws patients from both counties.
“Being female, I developed a passion to do the female problems,” she said. “I am able to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to strictly mammography. By doing so, I am able to see signs and pick up symptoms easily.”
While men in fact do get breast cancer, almost all cases are in women. Cancer researchers estimated 268,000 women and 2,670 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year.
Years ago, breast cancer was most likely fatal. Now, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent and odds of living 10 years after diagnosis is 83 percent. This is largely attributed to what Perni does — mammograms that provide early detection.
Perni said that when she went into practice for herself in 1983, she might do three mammograms a week. Since 1998, she narrowed her focus to only mammograms. Today, the center might perform as many as 25 to 30 mammograms a day.
“If we find it early, it’s curable,” Perni said. “By the time the patient feels the lump, it’s kind of too late (for simple treatment).
CREATING A BOND
“The doctor-patient relationship is the foundation of achieving results. I am able to connect with each patient — listen to their concerns and show compassion. Patients are often scared or uneasy at the time of a visit and that’s understandable,” she said.
“It’s imperative that patients are at ease. When they express concerns, I calm them down, explain what exactly is occurring, what the necessary steps are, etc. Communication is vital for a patient to receive the best care,” she said.
“Most women are nervous when they come in. When we call them for a problem, they’re scared. So before a patient leaves, I talk to them. We tell them the results before they leave.”
So why, if mammograms reduce the need for surgery and increase the odds of survival, do many women still put off what should be an annual exam?
“Some are in denial,” Perni said. They seem to think that if they ignore it, it will go away. Others aren’t sure if they what they felt was a lump, so they wait. Some women just don’t want to know that they have cancer, she said.
For others, it’s the thought of getting a body part as sensitive as the breast squeezed in a mammogram machine.
There’s just not that much of a painful compression anymore, Perni said. Mammogram technology continues to improve with less pressure, digital scans and now three-dimensional scanners that can see much more.
“The smallest cancer I found was two millimeters,” Perni said. “Finding any indication early is crucial. If detected early on when the cancer is small and has not spread, it’s easier to treat successfully.”
WHEN TO START
There are two sides to a mammogram, the screening — which happens when there is no known problem — and the diagnostics — which happens when a problem is identified.
Not all lumps are cancer. Nor does it mean cancer every time a woman is called back for an additional scan because the first one showed something. But all lumps and all suspicious readings should be checked out.
Her advice: Follow the American Cancer Society guidelines. Women should have their first mammogram at age 35 to 40, then do so once a year after that as long as they remain healthy.
If there his history of cancer in the family, start the mammograms sooner, as early as 25 or 30. Those might be done as an MRI. Very dense breasts might require an ultrasound. When it comes to checking the breast, it’s not one-size-fits-all, she said.
“Cancer risks increase as you get older,” she said. “A lot of people, they say, ‘My doctor said I’m 75, I don’t need a mammogram. That’s not true. That’s when the cancer goes up.”
If Dr. Perni and her husband ever decided to retire, they still have plenty to keep them busy, besides three grown children and five grandchildren. Here’s some of her — and their — community work:
l Contributing sponsorship to the River Project at OH WOW! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology in downtown Youngstown;
l Annual contributions to the Liberty in Bloom beautification project in Liberty;
l Annual contributions to Trumbull County Fairhaven Program;
l President of the American Physicians of Indian Origin of Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania;
l Involvement at the local Hindu Temple on Sodom Hutchings Road in Liberty;
l Member of a group that helped launch Comfort Suites in Youngstown as a revitalization effort;
l Built temples and churches in India;
l Enhanced schools in India;
l Assist in medical screening camps annually and cataract surgeries;
l Provided garbage disposals in villages in India;
l Annually participate in a Free Drinking Water project in Idupulapadu, India.
“I appreciate where I came from and what the Mahoning Valley has meant to my family and I,” Perni said. “Being active in the community and helping people is my passion. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to heal and make a difference in people’s lives every day. It’s the reason I got into medicine.”