NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s October and that means it’s the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
While there are many new developments in detection and treatment, Dr. Max Gomez says there are also a lot of misunderstandings about the disease.
The first misconception is that breast cancer is one disease. There are many different types of breast cancer, perhaps dozens, mostly depending on which hormone receptors are on the surface of the cancer cells and that determines the best treatment for that particular cancer.
That’s why one of the first things a pathologist should do when they have a confirmed cancer biopsy is determine the receptors on the cancer cell. Research oncologists are also working on typing the genetics of cancer cells, which could also further focus treatment.
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Before you get a diagnosis, you have to be screened for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society says all women should begin having yearly mammograms, still the gold standard, by age 45, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Three-dimensional digital mammograms are much better at seeing possible breast tumors, so you should seek a center with that equipment.
But all of that is for women at “average risk.” The question is, how do you determine what your risk is? There are now online breast cancer risk assessment tools that take you step-by-step through all the factors that contribute to your risk. High-risk women may need to start screening at an earlier age, use other technologies like MRI or even be tested for some of the so-called breast cancer genes.
If you do have breast cancer, there are now better surgical techniques that can hide a breast scar, that can improve the odds of getting all the tumor out in the first operation and even apply radiation during surgery so that a woman doesn’t have to return for weeks of radiation therapy.
Finally, breast reconstruction has improved dramatically where a woman can often choose to use her own tissue for reconstruction, eliminating implants and achieving a more natural result.
When it comes to cancer, there is no “one size fits all.”
Every woman and every cancer is different and the last, often over-looked factor when deciding on breast cancer treatment is what is important to the patient.
Some women will want a mastectomy even if a lumpectomy is possible. Not every woman will want reconstruction.
Talk to your doctor.