October puts Breast Cancer Awareness on forefront

Heidi Hickle, Staff Writer

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM). Just like other forms of cancer, breast cancer can occur in both women and men, although it is more common in women. It has various stages and forms. Along with most other types of cancer, researchers do not know what causes breast cancer.
Research has shown that certain genes, if mutated, do appear in families who have the hereditary form of a breast cancer. These genes, the BRCA (BReast CAncer) 1 and BRCA 2, can be tested.
“This gene gives people a high risk for breast cancer and a doctor may prescribe a mastectomy just because of the risk associated with the gene,” stated Dr. Lynn George, associate dean and professor at the RMU School of Nursing and Health Sciences.
This gene can be recessive, and although nobody in a family currently has it, children can still test positive for the gene.
Women who get implants and reductions can still be screened, as none of the surgeries interfere with mammograms or health screenings.
“Breast cancer has four stages, one being the lowest risk stage and four meaning the cancer has spread,” explained Dr. George.
Watching and feeling for lumps in your breasts, discharges from the nipple, or dimpling, also known as orange peel skin, at a site that may be conducive to cancer growth.
“It can occur at any age, although risk increases with age,” indicated Dr. George. “You can get it as early as in your 20s, that’s why it is important to know your family history. You can identify with things you may be more at risk for than others, not just cancers, but other kinds of risk. The earlier you catch it, the more likely there is to be cure.”
An example of how early diagnosis can save a life is breast cancer survivor Dr. Lynn Davidson, dean of the RMU School of Nursing and Health Sciences. She was affected five years ago this past summer, and she says she feels, “great and grateful”.
Even though her mother died of breast cancer at age 58, she did not have either BRCA gene, or enough of a family history for scientists to consider her having a family history of breast cancer,.
“Since this, I have been careful to always have a yearly mammogram, and five years ago, at that yearly mammogram, the physician saw a very small spot, and recommended that I have it biopsied,” explained Dr. Davidson. “It could have been missed; it was so small at that point in time.”
Once the biopsies came back positive, she had surgery and was a participant in a new type of research radiation therapy.
“I had one week of targeted radiation twice a day for five days,” stated Dr. Davidson.
The results of this radiation research have not yet been released.
“I had a fabulous surgeon,” mentioned Dr. Davidson, “everything was clearly explained.”
A test can be performed to see the chance of having the cancer reoccur if you do not have chemotherapy. In Dr. Davidson’s case, the percentage of difference was not enough to make her opt into chemotherapy.
To Dr. Davidson, the hardest part was being told the news over the phone.
“My primary GYN physician told me she was sorry about the results, but they hadn’t told me the results yet. So basically, I was told over the phone, that, yes, you have breast cancer.”
“Women need to follow-up, be checked and have these exams that could save their lives. It’s uncomfortable, and not a lot of fun, but it is better than the alternative,” explained Dr. Davidson. “And I for one am thankful to all women who have sacrificed, and the many who have died from breast cancer and the research and all the information that has been gathered to help those in the future. I clearly benefitted from what was known.
At some point, everyone is affected by breast cancer, whether it is a friend, relative, or yourself. In the year 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 230,480 new cases in females and 2,140 new cases in men will be reported.
Some basic steps women can take to reduce their risk include limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, breast-feeding, maintaining a healthy body weight, not using hormone therapy after menopause, visiting a doctor regularly, and getting a mammogram every one to two years, starting when health risks suggest that precautions be taken.

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