Q&A With Carol Baird, High Risk Breast Navigator
By Stamford Health Breast Center Staff
Think You Might Be at Risk for Breast Cancer?
We're here to help. Contact one of our Breast Navigators who can help guide you with next steps in your care. Call 203.276.4910.
Or if you prefer, contact Maria Uva to schedule an appointment with Carol Baird, APRN, at 475.529.6685.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Have you always worked with women who are at high risk for breast cancer?
A: I have worked within this specialty for the past 18 years, my positions have been in breast surgical oncology and with breast high risk programs. I've also worked in plastic surgery in the past. I’ve been with Stamford Health for about a year and a half.
Q: Tell us about the high risk breast program and what you do. Why is this program so important for women?
A: The high risk program is a comprehensive breast cancer risk assessment program to identify, educate and counsel women who are at increased risk for breast cancer. I work with every woman who receives a mammogram at Stamford Health's Breast Center to evaluate their level of risk. Really, we’re a group of specialists that work together as a team which includes a nurse practitioner, our breast surgeons, radiologists, genetic counselors, medical oncologists and nurses.
If a woman is identified to be at risk by either our mammography team, one of their physicians or even by a self-referral, I encourage her to make an appointment for a consultation with me.
Q: What is considered high risk?
A: Women are considered high risk if your lifetime risk is greater than 20%. We have computer programs that can calculate that exact risk. There are a number of factors that influence risk, often in the form of a combination of risk factors that we would go over in detail during the comprehensive risk assessment. Known genetic mutations are also at play, such as a BRCA gene or other specified mutation.
Q: What does a typical journey for a woman at high risk look like? What happens at her first visit?
A: We have a woman complete a questionnaire, then we review their history and may gather any pathology reports if she has had biopsies. Either myself or a breast surgeon will provide a more comprehensive risk assessment, perform a breast exam and make recommendations for increased surveillance, risk reduction strategies and lifestyle modifications. From that point, we talk about any additional imaging, as well as referral to genetic counseling or medical oncology. By the end of the visit, we have formulated a plan together on how the risk will be managed going forward.
Q: What have you learned as a result of working with high-risk women?
A: Everyone is different and the perception of one’s level of risk is quite individualized. What is an appropriate strategy for one does not always work for the next person.
Q: How do you ease concerns/fears while supporting women through an unpredictable time?
I think that education is empowering and can ease fears. Taking the time with women is so important, especially when addressing their concerns, explaining how risk is assessed, dispelling any myths and talking about genetics. I think that once a woman has a plan on how her risk will be managed, she will often feel that she is not alone on this journey.
Q: How will this program improve the lives of women who are at high risk?
A: By having this program in place, we are hoping to identify women and educate about them about their risk. Our hope is to also motivate them to make lifestyle changes and adapt strategies that can reduce risk, when appropriate. This program also compels us to have women on a high-risk screening protocol with the addition of an MRI so that if cancer were to occur, we can identify it at its earliest, most curable stage.
Q: How long does a woman work directly with you?
A: I want to see women who are at high risk for breast cancer at least annually, depending on whether she currently sees another provider who conducts breast exams or if she has a difficult breast exam. At these follow-up visits, we update a woman’s history, recalculate her risk, look to see if anything has changed that would impact the way we manage her risk and go about her care plan. We also perform a breast exam, address concerns and order imaging for the year. So once a woman sees me or one of our surgeons, we are in this together for the long run.