3 Things Patients Need to Know About Breast Cancer
When it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis (or any cancer diagnosis, for that matter) each patient is different. From the way they handle the initial diagnosis to their course of treatment, every cancer journey is unique.
Lisa Newman, M.D., a surgical breast oncologist at Henry Ford Health System, works with patients who have been diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body). Here, she offers insight into a few things patients need to know after their diagnosis.
- A diagnosis is not a death sentence.
The word “cancer” often incites feelings of fear and anxiety – and even thoughts about your own mortality or that of a loved one who has been diagnosed. But, Dr. Newman says, this shouldn’t necessarily be the case.“With appropriate treatment, the high majority of non-metastatic (cancer that hasn’t spread) breast cancer patients will be long-term survivors,” she says. “I typically begin conversations with my newly-diagnosed patients by explaining that we have many very effective treatments for this particular disease, and that while there are no guarantees in life (about anything!), breast cancer patients should have optimistic expectations for a good outcome.”
- You don’t need to make an immediate decision regarding your treatment.
Your breast cancer isn’t spreading or becoming more advanced by the day. You have time to do your own research, get a second medical opinion, or seek out a clinical trial or research study. It’s important to evaluate your options and weigh the pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision about your care.“You should not feel that you are ‘racing the clock,’” Dr. Newman says. “You have the time to make sure that you are properly informed about your cancer diagnosis and treatment options before jumping into something irreversible.”
Dr. Newman recommends not delaying the start of treatment more than 4-6 weeks after a diagnosis is made. In addition, other factors, such as the stage and type of breast cancer can influence how quickly you should begin treatment.
Related topic: 6 Breast Cancer Myths, Solved
- The majority of breast cancer diagnoses are in women who have no identifiable risk factors.
You often hear of women who found a lump in their breast and were then diagnosed with breast cancer. And while that does occur, 75-80 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women who have no identifiable risk factors or symptoms – so it’s crucial for all women to be aware of their breast health. Early warning signs of breast cancer include the formation of a new lump, bloody nipple discharge and/or a change in the skin of the breast such as inflammation or dimpling.
You’ve heard it before, but performing regular self-checks and visiting your doctor for routine mammogram screenings are the best ways to detect breast cancer at its earliest stage. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the surest way to prevent cancer from developing in the first place.
Women who face a relatively higher risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime include:
- Women with evidence of family history of breast cancer, such as those with multiple blood relatives (from either side of the family) that have breast and/or ovarian cancer, or male relatives with breast cancer
- Women who have used postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy for several years
- Postmenopausal women who are obese
- Women who excessively consume alcohol
- Women who have breast biopsies revealing particular patterns of “overactive” tissue, including conditions called “atypical hyperplasia” or “lobular carcinoma in situ”
For more information on breast cancer or to schedule an appointment with a doctor or for a mammogram, visit henryford.com/breastcancer.
Dr. Lisa Newman is a breast surgical oncologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and West Bloomfield.