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Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

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In 2009, over 250,000 women in the USA will be devastated to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer. They will probably feel utterly overwhelmed by the news and depressed by their new knowledge. There is no doubt that the psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis is immense and can lead to severe anxiety and depression.

Facing facts: as a woman you have about a 1:8 chance of being given this diagnosis sometime in your life. Fact: almost 1% of breast cancers will be men.

Another fact? With early detection you have a 96% chance of surviving for at least 5 years. “Early” is the keyword here. By the time you can see or feel an actual lump in your breast, it is no longer in its early stages and the treatment will be lengthier and more complex. Early detection is obviously what to aim for, so what are the best methods to follow?

MAMMOGRAPHY

Mammography is the most effective tool available. A relatively quick and simple mammogram can reveal important breast changes up to two years before a woman notices anything different. Any cancer found at such an early stage is at its most curable and very likely, the breast can also be conserved intact. A woman whose breast cancer is found in its preliminary form through a mammogram is very fortunate!

How often should a woman who has no symptoms go for a mammogram? Your doctor who knows your history is the best guide but generally speaking, a healthy woman should, from the age of 40 have a mammogram at least every two years. Aging is an increased risk factor for breast cancer as is having a close relative, such as a mother or sister who has had the disease. When a routine mammogram indicates an abnormality in the breast, further tests may be conducted, such as ultrasound.

Another fact: most abnormalities found by mammography do NOT turn out to be breast cancer.

SELF EXAMINATION

Another weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer is literally at your fingertips. Women should make themselves very aware of their breasts and their shape and feel so that they can quickly detect changes. It’s a good idea to begin in your twenties and make it a regular monthly routine. Inspect the breasts looking in a mirror, and then in the shower with soapy hands is a good place to feel for lumps or thickening

If you should happen to be among the thousands of women who do have a diagnosis of breast cancer, what is the next positive step?

CURRENT TREATMENT OPTIONS

All breast cancer treatment has the aim of eradicating the cancer. The method selected depends on tumor size and whether or not there is spread of the cancer to other sites in the body. All cancers are unique, composed of different sorts of cancer cells, which means that various forms of treatment will need to be used . Discuss with your doctor the choices available to you and be sure that you understand the reasons for recommended methods. Always be mindful that this YOUR body and if you wish, ask for a second opinion.

SURGERY: this sounds scary as a first option. Fact: it is the most successful initial treatment in the fight against tumors. Your doctor will explain the difference between lumpectomy and mastectomy and will make recommendations.

-Lumpectomy is a procedure to follow when the malignancy is small and contained within the breast; the lump and an area of healthy surrounding tissue is removed. With this method, the breast itself is conserved.

-Mastectomy involves the surgical removal of the entire breast, which may be necessary in cases where the malignancy is in an advanced stage of development. In a simple total mastectomy, all affected tissue is removed leaving intact the under breast muscle. Where possible, breast skin and nipple are saved. A modified radical mastectomy involves removal of all affected breast tissue together with some of the lymph nodes from the armpit. If cancer cells are found to be present in the nodes it would indicate a risk of the cancer spreading elsewhere in the body and would necessitate further lymph node removal.

NON SURGICAL TREATMENT

Following surgery, usually one or a combination of treatments will be given to be sure of eliminating remaining cancer cells.

-Chemotherapy will be used to treat spread of the cancer into the body. Administered in cycles, these drugs travel in the bloodstream to reach cancer cells. There may be unpleasant side effects from such drugs.

-Radiation therapy is used following surgery to eradicate malignancy remaining in the breast, the chest wall or armpits.

-Hormone therapy is an extremely effective treatment especially when combined with chemotherapy. Some cancers are dependent on female hormones; blocking them could prevent recurrence of the cancer.Tamoxifen is a hormonal drug that blocks estrogen from “feeding” the cancer.

-Monoclonal antibody therapy is given to patients to inhibit the growth of HER2 proteins, as occurs in some breast cancers. Herceptin has been shown to be effective and may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

ADVANCES IN RESEARCH

This is ongoing especially to refine Mammography, technically the best screening process available in the diagnosis of breast cancer. Other imaging techniques are being developed and improved, such as Digital Mammography, Ultrasound, MRI scanning and Image Guided Breast Biopsy.

Three Dimensional Mammography, due to come into use in 2010 will produce even clearer images that could better reveal early forming cancers.

Pharmaceutical research continues to develop new and more sophisticated medications to help in breast cancer treatment.

We are now all well aware of the importance of healthy eating, exercise and weight control and the woman who in 2009 learns that she has breast cancer need not feel despair. This is now a disease that is definitely more survivable than it was for her mother, mainly because we have increasingly sophisticated methods of early detection. All women stand to benefit from Mammography and it is up to all women to ensure that they do so.