Nov 28

Breast Cancer and Early Detection

breast cancerThis past October was 2108’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we were remiss for not mentioning it more prominently. Breast cancer awareness month is a yearly campaign intended to educate people about the importance of early screening and testing. This campaign starts on October 1st and ends on October 31st of each year.

When a breast cancer patient enters the operating room, she is surrounded by decades of training in the doctors, nurses and operating room technicians who are present. There will certainly be a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and possibly a radiologist or oncologist (a cancer specialist). The entire operating room staff may have over a hundred years of training between them. In addition, there is highly sophisticated equipment of many types, the product of many years of research and testing. In that operating room is a small army of professionals, all dedicated to defeating breast cancer.

As skilled as that staff might be, all their effort can be for naught if breast cancer detection came too late.  The importance of detecting breast cancer as early as possible cannot be overstated! All women should bear in mind the fact that breast cancer may or may not cause symptoms. The common symptoms may include lumps or swelling under the arms, unusual discharge from the nipple, changes in the feel, size, or shape of the breast tissue or non-painful lumps or masses in breast tissue. Some women may discover these changes themselves, but this does not at all lessen the importance of breast cancer screening; early detection of breast cancer is key to effective treatment and survival.

Mammograms, X-rays of the breasts that detect tumors at a very early stage, are a critical part of the early detection effort. If your gynecologist has told you that you are at “average risk,” you should certainly have a yearly mammogram starting at age 45. In the past, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommended that women begin having mammograms at age 40; recently that guideline changed to age 45. Other groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), still say that starting at 40 is best. Your best source of guidance on this matter is your own doctor. Beginning at the age of 54, women should have a mammogram every two years, assuming they are healthy.

Overall, there is good news about the fight against breast cancer. Survival rates have been going up steadily (thanks in part to early detection efforts). New techniques have reduced the need for more radical breast cancer surgery procedures and post-surgical treatment has advanced. In the past, breast cancer surgery has often been followed by a period of radiation therapy, intended to reduce the likelihood that breast cancer will develop again. Numerous studies confirmed that radiation breast cancer treatment lowers the chance of breast cancer returning.

That radiation breast cancer treatment has involved some drawbacks, making it a serious burden for many women. It may require treatment that extends over several weeks, involving a highly trained staff and medical equipment available only in hospitals or special clinics. Patients have to return to the breast cancer treatment center numerous times, typically five days a week for five to six weeks. This can pose a problem to a woman who wants to return to her normal life and responsibilities as soon as possible.

Surgeons can now offer an alternative, a breast cancer therapy called, IORT or Intraoperative Radiation Therapy. IORT provides an alternative that has proven effective in preventing the return of cancer, while sparing the patient several weeks of post-lumpectomy radiation treatment. During IORT, the breast cancer treatment radiation is delivered as a concentrated dose of radiation to the area immediately surrounding the tissue removed in lumpectomy. Throughout IORT, the operating room team will include both the surgeon and a specialist in radiation oncology who is in charge of administering the breast cancer treatment. These two doctors work together to produce the best outcome for the patient.

The Volusia-Flagler-Brevard area is well served by its medical community and by Florida Hospital Memorial Center. If you have questions about mammograms, the information available at Florida Hospital Mammography should be helpful. If you need information about IORT or any other area included in general surgery, please contact our office. You may use Contact Dr Birkedal or phone us at (386) 210-9794. Our offices, located in Daytona, New Smyrna and Palm coast are all part of the Florida Hospital Network.

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