NORTHERN HILLS — “It's breast cancer,” are three words no woman ever wants to hear. On average, one in eight women, or 12.2 percent, run the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives. But today, the diagnosis is not a death sentence. Instead, women can approach the breast cancer battle with more hope than ever.
Referred to as the “lifetime risk,” by medical professionals, the encouraging fact is that the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the prognosis.
In fact, the National Cancer Institute places the five-year survival rate at 100 percent if breast cancer is caught in stage 1.
Oncologist Dr. Michael Robinson of the Regional Cancer Care Institute in Rapid City said that due to many medical discoveries and advancements in the last 10 years, a more thorough understanding of the disease makes treating it even more successful than just one decade ago.
“In general, people do much better today than they ever have,” Robinson said. “Overall, we've improved peoples' prognosis. The good news is that most ladies can be cured with treatment and most don't relapse.”
For two main reasons.
“Breast cancer is diagnosed a little earlier now and some of the information about hormone replacement therapy has positively affected success rates,” Robinson explained. “Also, adjutant, or post-surgical treatment, is a lot better now. We know how to individualize treatment now because we know more than we did 10 years ago about such things as the molecular biology of the disease and hormone receptor tests, for example.”
Scientific breakthroughs regarding certain protein expressions in the blood help determine treatment procedures.
There is also a greater attempt to identify ladies who are at high risk for the disease, mainly those who have a strong family history and carry a certain gene or those who have had another malignancy in the past.
Robinson said that with advanced technology, screening tests and mammograms do a better job of picking up these higher risk women.
“That's why regular screenings, which help with early diagnosis, are so important,” Robinson said. “With breast cancer, symptoms generally are, not to have symptoms. The hardest cases we have are women who may have found a lump in their breast, a thickening, ignore the finding for months and come in with locally advanced breast cancer. Those are tough. Had they come in earlier, perhaps we could have done more to stop the cancer's spread.”
So just when should women start having mammograms?
“There is a lot of controversy about when they should start and how frequently, as well as when they should stop,” Robinson said. “The clearest recommendation is to follow the guidelines provided by your health care provider. People should follow the guidelines of their choice.”
Overall, Robinson says pay attention to changes in breasts.
“The earlier it's found, the better, but when a diagnosis is made, there are more options today than ever before. Options that enable women to keep one or both breasts, options for reconstructive surgery to keep a healthy body image,” he said.