St. Clair Hospital breast surgeon wants women to feel empowered
Tara Grahovac says she was always good in math and in science. So, when the Brookline native decided to attend Ohio University, she decided to major in pre-med. It was a natural fit.
After college, she went to medical school at the University of Cincinnati. It was there that the 34-year-old Mt. Lebanon resident decided to become a surgeon.
“I was drawn to surgery,” said Grahovac, a breast cancer surgeon at St. Clair Hospital and a partner in the practice of Budway Surgical Associates Inc. in Bethel Park, which will be opening a location in Peters Township later this year.
“Surgery is very practical,” Grahovac said. “You develop a game plan and you put it into action.”
She said she opted to specialize in breast cancer surgery because of the field – which is constantly changing with advances in both surgery and research. There were no personal, or breast-cancer related reasons for her specialization, she added.
“From a research aspect, breast cancer is an evidence-based field,” said Grahovac, who received a breast surgical oncology fellowship at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in 2014. “You need to stay up on the research and science.”
Grahovac, who performs roughly eight to 10 surgeries a week at St. Clair Hospital, said it is overwhelming when a woman – or a man for that matter – is told she has breast cancer.
“I need to empower the patient and am tasked with teaching them about the disease,” she said.
When talking to a patient about the disease and treatment, Grahovac said she tries to provide the person with two solid options and the benefits of both. This could be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination. It all depends on the cancer and what the patient feels comfortable with, she said.
“Treatment is a multi-discipline decision-making process,” she said.
A common misconception that many people have is they won’t get the disease if there is not a family history. Grahovac said this is not true. Nearly 90 percent of all breast cancer cases are not related to someone’s genetic makeup, she said.
“The biggest risk factor of breast cancer is having breasts,” she said.
Still, it is important for a woman to know her risk factors, such as whether there was breast cancer on both parents, especially immediate family members, she said. It does not necessarily mean someone will get breast cancer, but does increase the risk of developing the cancer.
Women need to be vigilant about doing monthly breast exams because it makes it easier to know if something changes. Grahovac said breast tissue goes all the way to the start of the armpit and most cancers occur above the nipple.
Mammograms are important, too. Grahovac said women should begin getting tested yearly by age 40, and, if possible, request a 3-D mammogram, especially if she has dense breasts.
“They (mammograms) are not the end all and be all,” Grahovac said. “You have to know your risks and what is normal.”
Grahovac said she has treated women as young as 27 and a woman who was in her early 90s. She said as a woman ages, the chances of her developing the disease rise, especially if they are post-menopausal.
“When someone under the age of 45 develops breast cancer, we tend to be more concerned because her genes could have played a role,” she said. “We will then offer them genetic testing.”
“There is always new information coming out. It is important for women to be advocates for themselves,” she said. “It is a very treatable disease and is not a death sentence.”
Grahovac lives in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, Erik, who sells medical supplies, and their two daughters, Sophia, 4 1/2, and Annie, 18 months. She met Erik, a Wexford native, at Ohio University.
“And here we are, back in Pittsburgh,” she laughed.