Early detection key to surviving breast cancer

Published 7:16 pm Thursday, October 29, 2009

An estimated 192,370 people will be diagnosed with it this year alone. There are more than 100 different forms of it. And just because there is no family history of it doesn’t mean it won’t strike you.

The good news is, more women than ever are surviving breast cancer through early detection and appropriate treatment.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Ramana Puppala, board-certified gynecologist, gave a presentation on the topic at L.V. Stabler Hospital last week.

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“Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in the U.S., excluding skin cancer, and next to lung cancer, it takes the most lives,” Puppala said.

Major risk factors for breast cancer including age (50 and over), race (a higher incidence among African-Americans) , family history of breast cancer or a personal history of ovarian cancer, genetic predisposition, estrogen and progesterone exposure, an excess of certain cells in the breast’s lobes and ducts, radiation exposure and lifestyle factors, such as obesity, lack of exercise and alcohol use.

While there is no sure-fire way to completely prevent cancer, Puppala said there are ways women can reduce their risks.

“Those at very high risk may choose to take more drastic measures and have their breasts and ovaries removed. There is also chemoprevention, using drugs like tamoxifen and raloxifene,” he said.

“Something I strongly recommend all of you do is to use risk assessment tools to help you discover your actual risk of developing breast cancer.”

Puppala stressed early diagnosis means a much better chance of success in treating the cancer. A monthly self-exam is important, but don’t neglect getting a mammogram.

“Mammography is still the best tool doctors have to screen for cancer and it can detect cancers too small to be felt,” he said.

Symptoms to be on the lookout for include new lumps or a thickening of the breast or under the arm; nipple tenderness, discharge; skin irritation or changes, such as puckers, dimples, scaliness, or new creases; warm, red or swollen breasts with a rash similar to an orange peel and pain in the breast.

Once diagnosed, breast cancer is treated in a variety of ways, Puppala said.

“It used to be a diagnosis of breast cancer often meant a radical mastectomy; nowadays less invasive surgeries such as lumpectomies along with radiation and chemotherapy are often used, saving the breast as well as saving a life.”

Hormone therapies are also used to reduce risk of reoccurrence, with targeted therapies used to target various stages and types of breast cancer.

Puppala said many African-American women are particularly at risk of inflammatory breast cancer, which is a tougher cancer to treat.

“Anyone with red, swollen, scaly breasts need to get evaluated as soon as possible, even though there is no pain or evident lumps,” he said.

To evaluate your own risk of developing breast cancer, visit www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool