Community


Breast Cancer Diagnostics and Cure

The Breast Cancer Journey: From Diagnosis to Recovery

It´s difficult to cross paths with someone who has not been touched by the diagnosis of breast cancer. Unfortunately, this disease has almost become all too common. Understanding the path from diagnosis to cure can help answer some of those questions and unknowns that a woman will face once diagnosed with this scourge. As with any form of cancer, early detection is the key to survival.

Survival Rates from Breast Cancer

Key to Survival

As the chart above shows, it´s imperative to detect breast cancer early in order to increase your survival rate. The question is when should a woman start taking steps towards detecting any potential breast cancer? A self exam should be part of a woman´s routine and the Mayo Clinic suggests that a woman should start getting a yearly mammogram at the age of 40. They point to a Swedish study that shows women who underwent screening mammograms in their 40s showed a decrease in breast cancer deaths by 29%. Other methods to potentially diagnose breast cancer include:

  • Ultrasound: By using sound waves that don’t damage any underlying tissue, any lumps that can be cancerous can be detected.

  • MRI: This method uses magnetic energy and radio waves to penetrate the breast tissuetherefore, creating a detailed image of the breast area.

  • Biopsy: Sometimes if a suspicious area is detected, tissue or fluid can be removed and the cells are examined under a microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous or not.

One of the simplest methods for determining a change in breast tissue is breast self-examination (BSE). Your doctor or nurse can help you determine the proper technique for performing a self breast examination in order to determine any variation in your breast tissue. Women should start performing this examination after age 20 and should be performed once a month. Any change in breast tissue should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

 

Women can learn the proper technique for self-examination by utilizing a breast self-examination model at an early age in order to prepare themselves to stay ahead of any potential issue.

Potential Do´s and Don´ts

After any test or biopsy it´s normal to be nervous until results are found out. The hard part can be waiting for results to come back. It´s this waiting period that can create anxiety and a sense of uneasiness. Each person deals with the stress differently, so it´s important to find what works for you, whether it´s taking your mind off of the situation or educating yourself on potential treatments. A few calming thoughts that www.nationalbreastcancer.org offer include only 20% of all breast tumors are cancerous. Of these tumors, most are highly treatable and cancer treatments are improving quite rapidly these days. There are a few pitfalls you may want to avoid. You should try to avoid obsessing over any potential cancer diagnosis. If you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time online researching instead of sleeping or caring for your family, maybe stepping away from the situation can help. If your doctors decide that further testing is necessary, you should heed their advice and not avoid the situation. Using online information to diagnose yourself should not replace the advice of your well educated doctors. Another potential problem can be advice. You may find a multitude of people offering advice based upon their situation and experience, and while this is meant in a helpful manner, you should not expect someone else´s situation to be exactly like yours. Many cancer treatments now incorporate immunotherapy in order to combat breast cancer. This means using your own immune system to combat cancer cells. Lastly, you should be sure to be aware of any depression you may be experiencing. It´s completely normal to have anxiety, sadness, or even anger but you should not let it get the best of you and you should notify your healthcare provider about these feelings.

Surgical Options

Many times the appropriate treatment for a breast cancer diagnosis can include surgery to remove any tumors or abnormal growths and even lymph nodes. Surgery to remove a localized tumor and surrounding tissue is referred to as a lumpectomy. Most lumpectomy surgeries last 15-40 minutes and many surgeons use a curved incision that follows the natural curve of your breast and permits faster healing. An overnight stay in the hospital is often not required following a lumpectomy, unless the lymph nodes need to be removed. After a lumpectomy your physician may have you follow some guidelines that include:

  • Taking Pain Medication

  • Bandage Maintenance over Incision

  • Caring for Surgical Drain (if necessary)

  • Caring for Stitches or Staples

  • Identifying Signs of Infection

  • Rest

  • Wear a Quality Sports or Support Bra

Another surgical option is a mastectomy, which is the removal of the entire breast. There are a variety of mastectomies when it comes to breast tissue removal. The five major types of mastectomy are:

  • Simple/Total Mastectomy: This is the total removal of breast tissue without removal of lymph nodes under armpit.

  • Modified Radical Mastectomy: A mastectomy in which the entire breast and levels 1 and 2 lymph nodes are removed also.

  • Radical Mastectomy: Similar to a modified radical mastectomy, but Level 3 lymph nodes under the arm are also removed.

  • Partial Mastectomy: This is very similar to a lumpectomy but more healthy tissue is removed around a cancerous tumor.

  • Subcutaneous Mastectomy (nipple sparing): A surgery in which all the breast tissue is removed, but the nipple is left intact.

Postsurgical Help

Breast cancer surgeries, while necessary, can also have an adverse affect on women and their self-confidence post surgery. Many times a mastectomy may be the best course of action, but women can utilize a breast form to restore their confidence. These can be used in conjunction with a mastectomy bra in order to maintain symmetry in their breasts after a mastectomy. In the cases of breast cancer treatment that leads to lymphedema (the buildup of fluid due to breast cancer treatment) the use of a lymphedema bandage can help with the fluid buildup. An occupational therapist that specializes in this type of rehabilitation can teach you the proper way to bandage the affected area. You can also utilize a lymphedema pump with garments that are specially designed for your specific compression needs. After any ordeal with breast cancer, the return to a "normal" life may seem like a pipe dream. This doesn´t need to be the case. Many women may be self conscious after a mastectomy, so how do you return to enjoying something like a trip to the beach or the pool? A mastectomy bathing suit is specifically designed to give you back your confidence and allow you to do everything a warm summer day may throw at you.

Enjoy Your Recovery

Many women feel this moment may never come during treatment, but with advances in breast cancer detection and treatment there is light at the end of the tunnel. Once you have beaten the beast of cancer you should work with your doctor to determine a way to minimize any recurrence or relapse. Yes, sometimes family history and heredity are part of the equation, but there have been treatments that have been promising in preventing a recurrence of breast cancer. The Mayo Clinic gives us some examples that include:

  • Hormone Therapy: Women that experience hormone receptor positive breast cancer can benefit from hormone therapy. This can start after initial treatment and can last for up to five years.

  • Chemotherapy: Many women at risk for breast cancer recurrence can benefit from chemotherapy in order to reduce their risk of cancer returning. Chemotherapy can reduce the risk of breast cancer returning and those who received therapy have lived longer. To combat hair loss that might come with chemotherapy, a wig can be utilized. They have come a long way!!

  • Radiation: A lower chance of recurrence can be benefited by radiation for women who have had procedures to spare their breasts or may have had large tumor or inflammatory cancer. Many times radiation is paired with chemotherapy. Many stylish headscarves can help a woman after this type of treatment for potential hair loss.

  • Targeted Therapy: Cancer may cause women to produce more of the protein HER2 and can be treated with prescription drugs, such as Herceptin. You should ask your doctor if you are a candidate for this type of therapy.

  • Maintaining Healthy Weight: As with anything else, eliminating any weight gain and maintaining your healthy weight can minimize the risk of breast cancer relapse.

  • Exercising: The overall health benefits of exercising can include minimizing any potential risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Advances in detection and the treatment of breast cancer have come a long way. Once you have received your diagnosis of breast cancer you should take control of your life and treatment to vanquish this scourge from your body. Remember not to stress over what you can´t control and work with your doctor to make sure cancer and it never returns!!