In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are going pink to help raise awareness! During October, Community Care will do our part to help educate and provide breast cancer resources to our community.
First, we'd like to give a refresher on what breast cancer is.
Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. The problem with the increased growth is that these cells usually form a tumor. Ladies, you know how doctors tell you to perform a self-exam to check for any lumps? That's because those tumors can sometimes be felt as lumps under your skin. The tumors can also be seen on a breast x-ray, more commonly called a mammogram.
Did you know there are different types of breast cancer?
The most common kinds of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, and invasive lobular carcinoma. We know… Those words probably don't mean much to you, but what should matter to everyone no matter what type of breast cancer, is early detection.
Early detection is key.
When you detect breast cancer early, and it hasn't had the chance to spread, it's a lot easier to treat successfully. How do you detect breast cancer early? Screening tests.
The goal of these tests is to find cancer before it causes symptoms – like a lump that you would feel during a self-breast exam. The American Cancer Society has guidelines for recommended screenings for women who are at average risk for breast cancer. The guidelines are:
- Women between ages 40 and 44 have the option to begin screening with a mammogram every year.
- Women ages 45-54 should get a mammogram every year.
- Women ages 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year. They can also choose to continue yearly mammograms.
Who is at "average risk" for breast cancer?
Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women – about 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime – but men can be affected too. In addition to gender, there are other risk factors you cannot change, including:
- Getting older
- Reproductive history (menstrual periods before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55)
- Having dense breasts
- Personal or family history of breast cancer
- Previous radiation therapy treatment
- Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (used in the US between 1940 – 1971 to prevent miscarriage in pregnant women)
There are other breast cancer risk factors that you CAN change:
- Being physically inactive
- Being overweight or obese after menopause
- Taking hormones for more than 5 years during menopause and certain oral contraceptives
- Reproductive history (first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy)
- Drinking alcohol
If you have one or more of these risk factors, it is even more crucial that you have the appropriate screenings.
What happens if a lump is detected during the screenings?
Irregular breast cancer screening – words no woman, or her loved ones, want to hear. If you or someone you know has had an abnormal mammogram, it's a good idea to take a minute and breathe. It's easy to let the panic set in, but keep in mind that the screenings themselves are not conclusive. Your doctor will need to order additional testing to clarify their findings. These tests may include a breast ultrasound, MRI, and/or a biopsy. The ultrasound and MRI allow your doctor to capture more detailed images of the area in question. In a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue and send it out to be tested for cancer cells.
An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that you have breast cancer. If no cancer was detected, then you will likely be asked to receive more frequent screenings to monitor your body for any changes.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer – now what?
If you have a confirmed breast cancer diagnosis, you may be unsure of what to do next. One of the first things we recommend to our cancer patients is to find an advocate. Someone who is an expert in the cancer world and can help guide you through the process. If you live in the Capital Region, we highly recommend you reach out to CCP's Oncology Nurse Navigator, Karen Houston.
Our Oncology Nurse Navigator helps patients and their families on their journey through the complex world of cancer. Karen can provide cancer education, coordinate appointments, review your doctor's advice, and more.
Karen is also a great emotional supporter, which is crucial at a time when you may often feel scared and alone. She can even be present at some of your appointments for your peace of mind if her schedule allows. And you don't have to be a current CCP patient to take advantage of her services! You can call her directly at (518) 213-0308.
What other breast cancer services does CCP have?
We have oncology experts who work together to provide personalized cancer care to our patients, including screenings, diagnosis, treatment(s), follow-ups, and after treatment care.
When it comes to screenings, diagnoses, and even some treatments, you can trust ImageCare at Community Care Physicians. Our ImageCare practitioners have been providing medical imaging services to the Capital Region for more than 30 years. This includes The Breast Center at ImageCare, a full-service breast center that specializes in breast cancer screenings and diagnosis – one of the few of its kind located in the Capital Region.
For breast cancer treatment and care, our specialists at Image Guided Radiation Therapy, Upstate Hematology Oncology, and Community Care General Surgery are all dedicated to achieving the same goal: making you cancer-free!
How do I decide where to go and when for my breast cancer care?
Knowing about the services that are available to you is essential, but it's of no help if you don't take advantage of them. We understand that it can be overwhelming and feel impossible to choose where to go. That's just one more reason to call CCP's Oncology Nurse Navigator, Karen Houston!
Karen is here to help patients through the entire process, from scheduling tests and screenings, to educating them, so they feel comfortable making important decisions. Karen is an invaluable resource, and we strongly urge you to lean on her for guidance. Remember, you don't have to be a patient of CCP to use her services. Call (518) 213-0308 to reach her directly.
Don't go through breast cancer alone. No matter where you are in your breast cancer journey, we want to be a part of it. Speak with your primary care practitioner or call (518) 213-0308 for more information about our cancer services.