AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – While October is known as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We turn our attention to breast cancer, and the upcoming Miracle Mile Walk, with Dr. Randy Cooper – the director of Breast Health Services at Piedmont Augusta. He shares the improvements made in screenings and life expectancy, plus when you should get screened.

Brad Means: October is domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And for that we are so privileged to be joined by Dr. Randy Cooper, surgeon and director of Breast Health Services at Piedmont Hospital. Dr. Cooper, thank you for your lifetime of service and for being here to help us understand it all.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Thank you. And thank you for the way y’all have always supported our breast center here at Channel 6.

Brad Means: Well, it’s our pleasure. I wanna just ask you a question I’ve probably asked you a million times cause I think the number changes. How old should a woman be when she gets her first mammogram, and then how often after that?

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, as you say, that’s the difference of opinion, but we believe that the best is when you turn 40, you ought to get a yearly mammogram. And of course the Affordable Care Act, I think said you should stop at 74. But we see more and more people are living longer.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And so I saw a lady just yesterday, 87 years old, she said, I hadn’t had a mammogram at eight years. Guess what? She got a palpable breast cancer. So as long as they’re health, I think the American Society of Breast Surgeons and some other groups say that if you’re 75 years old and got a great chance of living to be 80, do your mammogram.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: You get to be 80 and you look still look good, keep doing your mammograms.

Brad Means: And of course if you’re younger than 40 and you notice something’s not right, you know, go get one.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, you go get, you got somebody check your breasts. But let me make a comment about that. Let’s just say your sister or mother had breast cancer in the forties, then you should start your mammograms 10 years before that. So your mother got diagnosed at say 44. You would’ve started at 34.

Brad Means: Okay, okay. That makes sense. Sometimes one of the most frustrating things for patients out there is waiting by that phone or waiting by that computer for the email for those results. You, Dr. Cooper spearheaded this push to get mammography results back faster. Where does that stand today? Is it within a couple of days?

Dr. Randy Cooper: What I try to do and what we’re trying to do in our little breast group there at Piedmont Hospital is if you have what we do at the end of the day, we go through all of our lab work. If you got a diagnostic mammogram, the radiologist come in and talk to you. If you had a typical screen mammogram, you’re probably not gonna get a result for that in three to five, 10 days in the mail. But what we try to do at the end of that day, we sit down and call everyone of the screen mamo, or our secretary, we’ll call them and say, hey your mammogram’s fine. Or else they wanna bring you back again for a couple more views. And if they do, if the radiologist does want that, we try to call them right then and say, hey let’s get this lady in tomorrow if it all possible.

Brad Means: When you say I need you to come back versus, hey your mammogram was clean, does that mean you have cancer nine out of 10 times?

Dr. Randy Cooper: No, no.

Brad Means: So don’t freak out.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Probably nine out of 10 times you’re not gonna have a cancer. Most likely.

Brad Means: Okay, so don’t be scared when you get that call.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Cause back probably 10% of the times you get what we call a callback where they want to bring you back. Maybe put a little more pressure on the breast or get a little different view just to prove that it’s nothing but shatters of the breast tissue.

Brad Means: Have we made any progress when it comes to early detection? We’ve been begging women for decades to go in early to start the mammogram at 40 because early detection is the key to to curing, or warding off breast cancer or have people responded?

Dr. Randy Cooper: I think we have, I think when you look back at, let’s just go back to the 1970s.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: There were three ladies, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Happy Rockefeller. They all three had breast cancer. A lot of natural attention. If you look at the number of mammograms up to that time, it’s kind of a flat line. But once they all got diagnosed and publicly publicized, that number has steadily gone up like that. If you look at the death rate start in the late seventies, that death rate has slowly been going down. I think from about 1989 to 2012, breast cancer rate death has gone down about 36%.

Brad Means: That’s impressive, I mean to me it.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Oh it is no question about it.

Brad Means: Do you get a lot of false positives? Because if you tell me that there’s a lump in my breast, the first thing I’m gonna say to you is, let’s run that again.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, I guess when we look at the mammograms, we categorize them as a level one or category one and two, which is good, come back a year. Level three is they see a little something, but most of the time it’s going one or 2%. It’s gonna be anything.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Randy Cooper: A category four mammograms where it says suspicious about 20% of those people will have a breast cancer. Whereas a category of five, probably 90, 95% of those people are gonna have a breast cancer. So in that category of four, there are gonna be some false positives. But what we do is when we see somebody’s got a category of four or the radiologist calls us, we say, tell ’em, come right now.

Brad Means: Okay.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And they may have to wait an hour in the waiting room, but they’re gonna get in. We’re gonna get ’em by and have an answer the next day.

Brad Means: Has imaging changed over the years or do you still just slap an x-ray up on a screen with a light behind it and look at that?

Dr. Randy Cooper: No, it, when I go see the radiologist I was telling him the other day, I said, it’s just unbelievable. I can remember they had a whole room with black lighted screens.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And you’d have to put ’em all these mammograms over the last five years and look at ’em. Whereas right now they can sit down behind a computer screen and look at everything you’ve had in their system as far back as you want to go.

Brad Means: That’s unreal. Can you look at it on your phone?

Dr. Randy Cooper: I can, Yeah sometimes.

Brad Means: People can.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, I don’t know. I don’t think, I don’t think the public has access to that right now. They do have access to their report almost within an hour after they have it. If they wanna go on my chart, that’s part of the problem. A lot of people have not signed up for my chart.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Randy Cooper: See if they would sign up for my chart, it would save me 20 calls every afternoon. But I feel like if they’ve had a screen, we wanna make sure they feel good when they go to bed that night. But if they had my chart, they could go on it and I be within 20 minutes, 30 minutes. after it’s read it’s in your chart and you can see it at home.

Brad Means: Is it hard to download that app and or to access that on your computer? It seems intimidating.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, it seems intimidating, and I’m a doctor and I told lady in my office, I said, go ahead and get me signed up then. and she got me such a complex number, I couldn’t get into it. But I would suggest that if they just call our breast center

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Which is real simple, of course 706, but it’s 774-4141, 774-4141. And ask them, how do I get on this app? And they can help you.

Brad Means: What about this mobile mammography unit that we reported on the news just last night, the night before the taping of this edition of the Means Report. Y’all got a big grant, you’re gonna get a new unit. Can y’all just reach everybody now? Even folks out in the country who could never get to the doctor?

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, let me say we wanna reach everybody, but we reach three counties in South Carolina. We reach about 17 to 18 in the state of Georgia. And since we started this, I think back in about 202, we have, I say free mam and they’re not free because this is what Miracle Miles is about and other donations.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: We pay for those mammogram. We have paid for over 77,000 mammograms and picked up, I think about 380 breast cancers over those 20 counties.

Brad Means: That’s lives that have been saved.

Dr. Randy Cooper: That’s absolutely. It’s all about a mammogram.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: If you detect it early, you’re gonna live.

Brad Means: Dr. Cooper, the Miracle Mile walk is such a huge event every year. I mean, huge in the sense that it makes so many people aware of breast cancer and huge that a ton of people turn out for it. How does that help y’all do your job better when those folks show up downtown and when they contribute?

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, it’s kinda like a big pep rally.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: All the folks who’ve had breast cancer who are survivors and those who are sitting, standing there thinking they may get it, when you see all the, I mean, we’ve had as many as 14, 15,000 people. Now the last two years because of covid we had what we call a drive through up at our Summerville campus.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And even that, this past year, we had a huge crowd of people who drove through. We had a great time. But we’re looking forward to October the 15th this year. And now Gust Commons where once again, we’re hoping to see 14, 15,000 people. But what that does, like last year, we raised over $400,000.

Brad Means: Wow.

Dr. Randy Cooper: We take that and use it to pay for mammograms and the university help, well it used to be University Healthcare Foundation, is now Piedmont Foundation.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: They, we not only help people with their mammograms, if people need financial aid, the electric bill paid, can’t buy food for some reason, for a while. We step in and try to help those people do that.

Brad Means: It’s amazing the work that you do. It’s not just treating the cancer and moving on. What about the BRCA test, this genetic test that can let us know if we’re predisposed to breast cancer? Do you like or trust that?

Dr. Randy Cooper: Absolutely. Absolutely. Let me tell you a little story if we got a moment here. Sure I guess it must have been back. We started our breast center 2000. In 2001 this young man came into my office from one of the genetic companies and he said, Dr. Cooper, are y’all interested in genetic testing? I said, Absolutely. Well, we had a little dinner one night? We got the surgeons, the oncologist, and the gynecologist into one room got educated up on, back then it was only BRCA one and BRCA two. Now there’s probably more than 12, at least 12 plus genes that we know that cause breast cancer. But BRCA one and BRCA two caused about 50% of it. All the hereditary.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And so we got it well publicized out the offices and that young man became the number six rep in that company in two years.

Brad Means: No way.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And he just came back and thanked me when they said he got a trip to Hawaii or something.

Brad Means: But he did work hard or something

Dr. Randy Cooper: We just educated people that had the doctors, you know, when you interview people, they started saying, my mother had breast cancer, my uncle had pancreatic cancer. So and so had ovarian cancer. We’re gonna refer them for genetic testing. Period.

Brad Means: Okay, all right. That’s good to hear. I didn’t know whether to like genetic testing or not, but you supported.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, I love it. In fact, you kinda like a detective when somebody comes in, you start taking their family history.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Randy Cooper: And you hear, say these cancers begin just think in your mind, man, this could be BRCA one BRCA two, one of these other genes. So when we see that, we immediately send them within a few days upstairs to our, we’ve got two geneticists in our program, which is more than anybody’s got around here. And it just, we get things done.

Brad Means: My last question, and it’s just a personal one because I’ve got you in the studio and I want to ask you this, your compassion for people and for patients knows no bounds. You don’t seem to have an off switch, Randy Cooper, how do you cope with all that you see and the all that you do when you get home and the work day’s done and you’re not at a patient’s house or on the phone with them? How do you just kind of collect yourself from all you do?

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well, lemme say this. Somebody asked me recently and said, when are you gonna retire and enjoy life? And I said, why would I do that? I says, I enjoy life right now. They actually pay me to do it. And I said, so I’m not interested in retiring, but helping people walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I don’t know, it’s just one of the greatest rewards you have in life. Cause what we do, we help people physically, mentally, spiritually, psychiatric wise. You can do so many things that help people. And I just, I wouldn’t swap my job for no job that you could get me.

Brad Means: I can’t thank you enough. You’re a awesome person and I am just honored to be in your presence. Thanks for what you do for us.

Dr. Randy Cooper: Well let me say this before I leave. I wanna thank you, and channel 6, and all Jennie, and all the people who’ve come before you. Channel 6 has helped us more than anybody to publicize breast cancer, to emphasize, check your breasts once a month, and get your mammogram. So we owe a, we’re indebted to you guys.

Brad Means: Our pleasure. We’ll keep pushing that message.