What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month which provides the perfect opportunity to talk about the disease in an effort to ensure all women have the most up to date understanding of the disease.  Doctors find that despite being the type of cancer that is most talked about and most visible in society, many of those who are diagnosed have a limited understanding of the disease.

What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer“Despite publicity surrounding breast cancer, many patients and their families still enter treatment with a number of questions and even misconceptions, according to Dr. Brian Tudor, oncologist with the Intermountain Southwest Cancer Center. Here are some things he often discusses with his patients:

Breast cancer doesn’t just ‘show up’

“If you can see a one-centimeter lump in a mammogram, it has probably been growing for about seven years. That is one reason I urge women to have regular mammograms. Women at average risk for breast cancer should have one mammogram between age 30 and 40, mammograms every two years between age 40 and 50, and annual mammograms after age 50.”

Not all breast cancer is hereditary

“We can define breast cancer genetically. We have a blood test that detects gene mutations that increase a woman’s chance for having breast, ovarian and other cancers. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, you are at higher risk for developing it yourself. That said, only about five percent of breast cancer cases can be shown to be genetic.”

We don’t know what causes most breast cancer

“Women ask me ‘Why did I get this? Can I change something in my diet or lifestyle to make this go away?’ The answer is no. There is no direct evidence for anything that we can hang our hats on.

“A lot of alternative healthcare providers offer ‘natural’ cures and preventatives like diets or vitamins. There are testimonials and stories of these working, but there is no scientific evidence to prove that any of them are effective. In fact, one study has shown that the antioxidants that some promote as cancer killers actually have the opposite effect, and cause the cancer to grow. People who opt for these kinds of treatments instead of those that have been scientifically proven are playing with fire.”

Best treatment is different for every cancer case

“Non-invasive breast cancers can often be treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. The cancer doesn’t spread, so we don’t worry about chemo. Other cancers are invasive. We need to control them locally (removal of the tumor and radiation) as well as systemically (chemotherapy). There are a lot of lymph and blood vessels in the fatty tissues of the breast. Cancer cells can easily get in and start travelling to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy for these patients can help decrease the risk of recurring cancer down the road.

 Every breast cancer patient is different

“Age, genetics, whether the woman has entered menopause, the size of the tumor, whether the lymph nodes are involved, and the presence of certain biological markers can create an infinite number of different permutations. We hold interdisciplinary tumor boards weekly and review almost every new cancer case. Tumor board includes doctors in surgery, radiology, radiation oncology, medical oncology and pathology, thus providing multiple ‘second opinions.’

“We review the specifics of each case and use National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines and evidence-based medicine to come up with a consensus on the best course of treatment for each cancer patient.”     

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