PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — With Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming to an end, Baptist Hospital general surgeon Dr. Pamela Schurman is encouraging women to get checked early.

Schurman said she was drawn to breast cancer awareness after having patients with the cancer for the past 20 years.

“I was the only female surgeon in Santa Rosa County for the past 20 or more years,” Schurman said. “So, it was a natural referral pattern and the more that I did, the more we have learned. It has changed drastically in that time frame, whereas taking out a gallbladder hasn’t changed that much. Treating breast cancer gets me thinking because every patient is different. It keeps me on my toes. There is also a little more connection female to female.”

Screening is the single most important thing Schurman said doctors have done to decrease breast cancer mortality.

“When that first started in the mid to late 70s, we reduced breast cancer mortality by 30 percent,” Schurman said. “All of the fancy drugs don’t do a thing if you don’t get the people in there. We don’t need the fancy drugs if we catch early-stage cancers. So, the recommendation from the organizations that actually take care of the patients is starting at the age of 40 and annual after that. The endpoint is kind of up in the air, because the older you get, the less aggressive cancers tend to be.”

Over the years, Schurman said mammograms have gotten increasingly more defined.

“If you think about it in terms that it is a camera, we have a much better focus than years prior,” Schurman said. “They are much easier. We have added and are getting better at MRI of the breast and that adds a completely different aspect of looking at it. Mammogram is a great screening tool that is low cost, easy to do and catches the majority of problems.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, each year in the United States, about 264,000 women get breast cancer and 42,000 women die from the disease.

Having grown up in the 70s, Schurman said she was accustomed to hearing people talk in hushed tones about women having a lump in their breasts. Now, she advocates for people in the community to speak out loud about breast cancer awareness.

“We need to be able to speak it out loud,” Schurman said. “We need to let women know that it is OK to come forward and say, ‘I have a problem,’ and not sit back and be afraid to say the words or mention that they found a lump. It just needs to be easily spoken, like it is to say that you found skin cancer.”

For more information on breast cancer awareness, click here.