Pink Ribbon Diaries: Oncologist says get checked often
By Shavonne Potts
This year, nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Two words could save their lives: early detection.
More than 2 million breast cancer survivors are alive today because of it.
Dr. Greg Mitro, of Southeast Radiation Oncology Associates in Salisbury, encourages patients to perform breast self-exams and get regular mammograms and check-ups with health-care providers.
“If there’s a possibility of saving your life, it doesn’t make sense not to,” he said.
The earlier a person finds a tumor or any mass, the better the cure rate, he said. Statistics show that nearly 97 percent of people who are diagnosed in the early stages have a good chance of surviving, Mitro said.
Mitro said opinions differ on the value of screenings. He is in favor of them.
“The bottom line is, you should have a monthly breast self-exam and yearly mammograms,” he said.
Many doctors advocate that women have a mammogram every year starting at age 40, if they are at high risk, and have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year beginning at 40.
Some cancers are caused by things people do, such as smoking, which could lead to lung cancer or mouth cancer. But breast cancer is harder to pinpoint, since there is no single cause.
Some known risk factors ó which don’t necessarily mean you will get the disease ó include simply being a woman, having a family history of breast cancer, having a mutation in the breast cancer gene (BRCA1 OR BRCA2 ó tumor suppressor genes) or prolonged exposure to estrogen.
Some other risk factors are getting older, never having children, having your first child after age 35 and gaining weight after menopause, because estrogen is produced in fat. Alcohol has also been shown to slightly increase the risk. The greater the levels consumed, the higher the risk.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Although breast cancer is most common among women, it can strike men. The American Cancer Society says that each year, an estimated 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die.
“It is more rare. They have less breast tissue,” Mitro said.
In the past eight years he’s seen two cases of men with breast cancer.
The usual course of treatment is to remove the breast tissue, followed by radiation.
If it’s necessary for peace of mind, a patient should get a second opinion, but shouldn’t wait, Mitro said.
If breast cancer is confirmed, be aggressive, he said.
Although each case is different, “I don’t see any point in waiting,” Mitro said.
Treatment options are determined by the stage of the cancer. The first stage of cancer means the cancer cells are invading normal tissue and the fifth, or advanced stage, means the cancer has spread to other organs.
“We ask, how big is the tumor? Are the lymph nodes involved?” Mitro said.
Lymph nodes are cells that fight infections.
Surgery is always a part of treatment, whether it involves removing a lump or the entire breast. Surgery can be followed by radiation or chemotherapy.
Many patients believe nutrition and wellness programs aid in recovery.
“They help a lot, because if you improve your diet and exercise, it will improve your life,” he said.
There have been many medical advancements and there are many more on the horizon.
“The death rate decreased in the 1990s, probably because of the medical advancements,” Mitro said.
Some of those are TRAM flaps that take tissue, muscle and skin from the stomach area and tunnel it to the breast area, as well as chemotherapy medications like Herceptin. Radiation treatment has improved and internal radiation treatment can be done in the chest cavity instead of the whole breast, Mitro said.