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Facing It Together: Using A Team Approach To Fight Breast Cancer
The fight against breast cancer is one that no woman should face alone. And they don’t have to.
Behind every woman fighting the battle of her life is a team of healthcare professionals from across many different specialties. Their goal is to pool their knowledge, expertise, and experience. Together, they work to help a woman fight back and return to living her life.
The five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients is 99% when caught early.
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Statistics From The American Cancer Society
Approximately 1 in 8 women (12 percent) will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2016. About 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (the earliest form of breast cancer, which is non-invasive) will also be diagnosed and 40,450 women will die from the disease. The chance that a woman will die from breast cancer is about 1 in 36 or 3 percent. It is the second deadliest cancer in women behind lung cancer. Breast cancer does affect men, but far more rarely, at a rate of about 1 in 1,000.
There’s good news to share: Breast cancer death rates have been declining for more than 25 years, especially in women under 50. The biggest reasons for that are awareness, early detection (especially screening mammograms) and improved treatments for this disease. But only about 60 to 70 percent of women who should be getting screened are doing so, which means there’s room for improvement.
In Their Own Words
Here’s how some Owensboro Health providers fit into the puzzle that is breast cancer care:
Amy Willcox, DO
Gynecologists are like the gatekeepers. We help with surveillance by providing breast exams at annual appointments and whenever a problem arises. OBGYN providers are trained to find lumps while they’re still quite small, long before a woman might find them herself.
We can be a source of mammogram referrals. We get the ball rolling if anything is found or suspected after a clinical breast exam and refer to other specialists, including general surgeons, plastic and reconstructive surgeons and more.
Early detection is key. The sooner you find a lump, the better chance you have for managing that condition if it turns out to be cancer. Screening for breast cancer and finding it sooner, in a more treatable state, helps keep families happy and healthy.
John Mulligan, MD
Imaging plays a critical role in diagnosis and follow-up of breast cancer. The most common test these days is mammography, which uses x-rays and computer technology to find breast cancer, and the technology has continually evolved and steadily improved. The American College of Radiology recommends a screening mammogram annually for all women beginning at age 40.
One of the big advances we use is 3-D mammography. Three-dimensional imaging eliminates the overlapping effect of 2-D mammography, so we can see things more clearly. Breast cancer is a diverse disease, so we also use other tests, including the following:
- Ultrasound: This method uses sound waves to show subtle differences in tissues that might not be visible on a mammogram.
- MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses radio-frequency waves to provide high-resolution imaging of internal structure of the breast.
Christopher Glaser, MD
Most often the first step with breast cancer, especially in the earlier stages, is to surgically remove the tumor. A vast number of breast cancer surgeries in the United States are done by general surgeons. My goal is to design and follow a treatment plan that will most likely cure a patient of her cancer and leave her feeling like she hasn't had a great change in her physical appearance.
Dattatraya Prajapati, MD
Medical oncology is an important part of breast cancer treatment both in the early stages and with advanced cancers. We have made great advances in the treatment of breast cancer using various drugs, and we can also tailor treatments based on a woman’s type and stage of cancer and her own genetics.
Medical oncology treatments for breast cancer include hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and biological treatment. These treatment methods are used for both early-stage cancer and metastatic cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body. The method of treatment can be selected by analyzing cancer itself or the genetics of the patient. This increases the chance of curing cancer in the early stages or prolonging life significantly in the advanced stages.
Ryan Abel, MD
Radiation oncology plays multiple roles in breast cancer care. In newly-diagnosed breast cancer, our role is mainly after surgery to prevent cancer from recurring. Radiation breaks apart the DNA in cancer cells so they can't multiply.
In situations where breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, radiation therapy can be used to treat symptoms and improve quality of life. Radiation therapy can help prevent bone fractures, relieve pain and also extend survival for patients whose breast cancer has spread to their brain.
Advances in radiation therapy delivery techniques and technology have also enabled us to deliver the same radiation with increased accuracy. This allows us to reduce the amount radiation exposure in healthy tissue. This allows us to deliver radiation in fewer treatments and with reduced side effects.
Janae Kittinger, MD
Our goal as plastic and reconstructive surgeons is to close the loop on breast cancer by educating every patient on her options. Although breast reconstruction is one of the end processes of cancer treatment, it's something we start discussing with the patient and whole team from the very beginning.
Depending on the individual characteristics of the tumor and patient desires, we may perform the reconstruction at the same time as the cancer removal with the general surgeon, or after the use of medical or radiation oncology. Breast reconstruction is accomplished with a variety of techniques, including implant-based and autologous-based (using the patient’s own tissue) methods.
Breast cancer treatment can leave both physical and emotional scars. We as plastic surgeons get the joy of being able to give the patient something back that cancer has taken from them: Decision-making and power. Cancer isn't in control anymore. She is.
Owensboro Health’s Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center is accredited and recognized by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and the American College of Radiology and Radiation Oncology Services. Find information about our cancer services and providers.
This article originally appeared in Owensboro Living magazine.