Breast Cancer Awareness Month Cont'd (3)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

As most of you know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In honor of that, I've decided to dedicate every Thankful Thursday post to raising awareness about breast cancer by doing some research and educating myself and then relaying that information to you guys! I was incredibly busy yesterday so I thought I'd just do it now. (: You can read my previous post here, where I talked about different ways of detecting breast cancer. Today I'll be covering how to prevent it and treat it. All my information will come from the Susan G. Komen for the cure website ( unless otherwise specified by an 'x'. 

 First of all, I just want to say that when I say 'how can you prevent it' I don't mean there's a way to never get breast cancer, although people are working on a cure. It's more in a sense of lowering your risk of getting the disease. The Susan G. Komen website uses a great analogy:

"Every day, we take steps to prevent unwanted events from happening. We wear seat belts to prevent getting hurt in a car accident and we brush our teeth to prevent cavities. We would like to ensure some events never happen. But, the best we can do is lower the risk these events will happen. We know people who brush their teeth can still get cavities. And, people who always wear their seat belts may still get hurt in a car crash. We do what we can to improve the chances of a good outcome, but we don't always have complete control."

Now, there are ways to reduce risk but since the disease process is so complex, it's difficult to specify how a certain set of risk factors will affect a person. There is no one factor that will cause breast cancer and most risk factors that we have some control over only pose a small effect on risk. The two most common risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older, which aren't things that are in our control. There are some behaviors that can lower the risk of cancer like living a healthy lifestyle. In fact, making healthy choices is good for any disease including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Even though there aren't any sure-fire ways of preventing breast cancer, here are four steps that you should consider to lower your risk.

1) Know your risk: Talk to both sides of your family to learn more about your family health history and                 talk to your doctor about your personal risk.
2) Get screened: Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk; have a
    mammogram every year starting when you turn 40; have a clinical breast exam at least every three years
    when you turn 20, and every year after you turn 40
3) Know what is normal for you and see your doctor if you notice any breast changes (you can read my            previous post to see how to detect these breast changes)
4) Make healthy lifestyle choices: Maintain a healthy weight, add exercise into your routine, limit alcohol             intake, limit menopausal hormone therapy, and breastfeed if you can (All info from here)

Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, there are two main types of treatment you can get: local and systematic.

Local (treat small area of the body)
- Lumpectomy: Surgical removal of only the cancerous area of the breast and some surrounding normal tissue. It's a less invasive procedure that removes the least amount of breast tissue and an overnight stay in the hospital may not be necessary. Side effects may include temporary loss of arm movement, numbness and lymphedema (fluid build-up that causes swelling in the arm and hand on the surgery side). However, there is a chance that not all the cancer will be removed so radiation therapy is generally required. This will decrease the chances of cancer returning.

-Mastectomy: Surgical removal of the entire breast and usually some under arm lymph nodes. Side effects may include temporary soreness, loss of arm movement, numbness, and lymphedema. It requires a short stay in the hospital and can cause lots of emotions. Radiation therapy is often not required because there is a small chance that not all the cancer will be removed with a mastectomy. Studies show that survival following a mastectomy and lumpectomy are equal.

-Radiation Therapy: Use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells in the targeted tissue. Most often used with lumpectomy and may be recommended after a mastectomy for women with four or more positive lymph nodes, breast cancers over 5 cm in size, or those with close or positive margins (cancer cells close to or at the edge of the surgically removed breast). Side effects may include fatigue, soreness and swelling in the breast area and lymphedema may develop later.

Systematic (treat the entire body)
-Neoadjuvant Therapy: Used before surgery to help shrink the size of a tumor

-Adjuvant Therapy: Used after local treatment to kill any cancer cells that may have escaped from the breast and spread to other parts of the body

-Chemotherapy: Use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Given one or two times a month for three to six months. Side effects may include hair and nail loss, nausea, fatigue, early menopause, hot flashes and lowered blood counts for a short time

-Hormone Therapy: Use of drugs to prevent your body's hormones, especially estrogen, from promoting the growth of any cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Therapy may involve taking a drug, like tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor, for five years.

-Targeted Therapy: Uses the body's immune system to fight cancer. Newer type of therapy and many are still being studied in clinical trials. All information from here.

Each treatment plan depends on many factors, such as the type of breast cancer, the characteristics of the tumor, and your overall health conditions. For example, surgery and radiation therapy are used more for non-invasive breast cancer while invasive breast cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted therapy. A breast cancer treatment plan is based on: the type of breast cancer, the stage of breast cancer, other medical issues, and your personal preferences. To learn more about which treatment plan works best for which breast cancer click here.

Stay tuned next week to learn more about Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

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