As an oncologist practicing in Charleston for 25 years, I am often asked what offers the best chance of being cured from breast cancer. The answer is simple. The best cure rate of breast cancer continues to be early detection which includes having routine mammograms and seeing a physician for any suspicious breast mass. Sometimes an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is recommended for people with dense breasts as it can more closely explore soft tissues.
Breast cancer is seen in 1 out of every 8 women and rarely in men in the US. One substantive risk factor includes genetics. There are accurate tests now that can be used to determine if your family carries the genes for breast cancer, known as BRCA-I and BRCA 2. The course of action following the results that test depends on the individual and advice from your doctor.
Other risk factors for breast cancer can include the use of estrogen supplementation for greater than 5 years, an early onset menstrual cycle (before the age of 12), late menopause (after the age of 55), having children after the age of 30 or never having children.
In addition to getting an annual mammogram from the age of 40 on, women need to know their bodies. This is important because mammograms are not 100% full proof and often women will detect changes in their breasts or bodies that a test won’t find.
There are many treatments available for breast cancer and the positive outcomes for patients, especially those whose cancer is detected early, are higher than ever. Some people are treated with chemotherapy, some with estrogen suppression, and others with both. Some patients require surgery, lumpectomies, or the partial or complete removal of the breast (mastectomy) or even lymph nodes. Reconstruction after surgery has advanced to the point where breasts can often be restored to strongly resemble a woman’s natural breasts. And there are treatments such as Adjuvant that are designed to help prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer.
Within the past 5-10 years tests have been developed which help physicians decide the best treatment for an individual patient. For people who have had breast cancer, preventive measures include routine exercise, healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a normal weight. But all women can benefit from those measures as well, as obesity can also contribute to the development of breast cancer and can inhibit the early detection.
I have treated hundreds of women with breast cancer since I began practicing in the late 80’s and I have seen remarkable developments in our ability to detect breast cancer early and treat it successfully. But my answer remains the same – what is the best chance to be cured from breast cancer? Early detection. Be mindful. Get screened. Live a long healthy life.
By Elizabeth Christian, MD, a board certified oncologist with Charleston Hematology Oncology Associates