Fighting Back Against Breast Cancer
By Galen Lastko,
Breast Cancer. We’ve all heard about it. We’ve seen the pink-washed products on the shelves and the Run for the Cure events. But just how common is breast cancer? Well as it turns out – extremely. In 2018, there were over 2 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide. Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women, accounting for 25% of cancer diagnoses and 15% of cancer deaths. Last year, an estimated 627,000 lives were lost as a result of breast cancer. It’s the kind of cancer that if you start asking people about it, you will find that virtually everyone knows someone who either survived it or didn’t.
Cancer, in brief, affects the way cells in our body divide, attach to other cells, and die off. In a healthy body, cells are continually dying and being replicated within our body’s many systems. External or inherited factors can cause this balance to become disrupted, and mutations can alter the behavior of cells in a way that results in the growth of cancer. There are six basic ways this manifests:
- unusual cell growth or division,
- continuous cell growth or division,
- avoidance of cell death,
- limitless number of cell divisions
- promotion of blood vessel construction, and the
- invasion or penetration of cancer cells into neighboring tissues.
Rebellious or destructive cells turn the body’s systems against each other, manifesting in a variety of symptoms: some obvious, some secretive. An early diagnosis provides the best outlook for any kind of cancer, and breast cancer is no different.
Women are around a hundred times more likely to develop breast cancer than men, although men can indeed be affected. Any symptoms, changes, or abnormalities in the breasts should be reported immediately to your health care practitioner, and regular mammograms are recommended, along with self-examination. While it may be a sensitive or uncomfortable process, a level of familiarity with one’s own body can provide early warning, which is so invaluable to the defeat of any potential cancer in the future.
For more on breast cancer screening, we interviewed Lora Simone, licensed Mammographer, and Radiology Manager at Jerold Phelps Community Hospital.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about breast cancer that you hear from your patients?
- Thermograms are a suitable alternative to mammograms: Thermograms are not FDA approved, and they cannot detect cancer until it has developed its own heat source (i.e. blood supply), which doesn’t happen until it reaches a later stage. Mammograms are the best option we have for early detection, and earlier detection means less invasive treatment options and higher survival rates.
- I had a mammogram 10 years ago, so I’m fine: It’s a personal decision between you and your doctor about how often to get screened, but the American Cancer Society recommends that women over 40 have a mammogram every year. Mammograms work by looking for changes in your breast tissue over time, and that means they’re only effective if you get them frequently. Many changes can occur quickly, and again the earlier cancer is detected, the better.
- It’s going to be painful: Technology has improved greatly in recent years, so it takes less compression as was once needed to be able see the breast tissue. It can be uncomfortable and awkward, but shouldn’t be painful. A vast majority of my patients say afterward that it was no big deal, and they don’t know why they were so worried.
- My mom didn’t have breast cancer, so I don’t need to worry about it: Unfortunately, this isn’t true. All women have a baseline risk of developing breast cancer, so they should get regular screenings and lead a healthy lifestyle.
What are the current recommendations for breast cancer screening?
- After the age of 40, it’s recommended that you get a mammogram every year. Also, being aware of your own body is huge. If you notice any changes in your breast size, shape, density, or feel a lump, contact your doctor immediately to get diagnostic testing. The Know Your Lemons website (knowyourlemons.com) has excellent information about what to look for.
What happens when someone gets a suspicious reading on a mammogram at SoHum Health?
- Because SoHum Health Radiologists do imaging reads remotely, we do perform screening rather than diagnostic testing. If a change in your breast tissue or anything questionable is seen on your mammogram, you’ll be referred for diagnostic screening to determine if it’s cancer or precancerous. Simply getting a referral doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, but it’s better to be safe and find out for sure.
What are some things women (and men) can do to decrease their risk of developing breast cancer?
- The recommendations to decrease the risk of breast cancer are pretty much the same as every other cancer – eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, don’t use tobacco, limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day, and reduce stress. There is evidence that breastfeeding, especially for a year or more, can reduce breast cancer risk too.
What are some reliable online sources of information for those who want to delve deeper?
- American Cancer Society
- National Breast Cancer Foundation
- Centers for Disease Control
- Know Your Lemons
What can we do to decrease breast cancer mortality rates in Southern Humboldt?
- Get a mammogram! Humboldt County has the lowest percentage of women who receive regular mammograms in the state of California – just 35%! Getting regular mammograms is the single most important thing women can do to reduce breast cancer mortality in our community.
While there are many conversations about the best methods of detection, it cannot be emphasized enough that whatever means your health care provider can afford you are immeasurably better than inaction or negligence. SoHum Health believes that every person deserves to live their best life, and getting regular breast cancer screenings is part of making that happen. In the meantime, we’ll continue to strive for the day that breast cancer won’t claim any more lives.
To schedule your mammogram at SoHum Health call (707) 923-3921. All people who get a mammogram before June 30, 2020, will receive $15 chamber bucks from the Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but every month is a good time to take charge of your health and get screened.
Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.