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SPEER: Early detection critical in breast cancer

Guest commentary

Dr. Shawnta L. Speer

Dr. Shawnta L. Speer

Just the Facts:

— All women are at risk for breast cancer.

— Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

— If you are a woman, there is a 1 in 8 chance you’ll develop invasive breast cancer in your lifetime.

— There will be 232,340 new invasive breast cancer cases this year.

— There will be 66,640 new pre-invasive breast cancer cases this year.

— There will be 39,620 breast cancer deaths this year.

The Good News:

— When found and treated early breast cancer is often curable.

— The death rate has decreased 20 percent over the past decade with increased screenings and improved treatment.

The two most important risk factors for breast cancer are being female and getting old. Although rare, young women can also get breast cancer and certain genetic mutation factors, like BRCA1 or 2, can put young women at a higher risk for both breast and ovarian cancers.

We Have to Take Responsibility. No matter your age, you need to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel. If you notice dimpling/puckering of the skin, hard knot or lump in the breast or underarm, nipple discharge (bloody or clear) that starts suddenly, swelling and redness of the breast, pulling in/inversion of the nipple; itchy, scaly rash or sore on the nipple, contact your doctor without delay.

Stage I breast cancers are small tumors localized only to the breast.

Stage II is either larger tumors or has spread to the lymph nodes.

Breast cancer stages II or I may be treated with breast-conserving surgery, plus radiation therapy, rather than a mastectomy. Removal and evaluation of some axillary lymph nodes during surgery is recommended to determine whether the tumor has spread beyond the breast. Chemotherapy can sometimes be avoided.

Stage III tumors are referred to as locally advanced breast cancer with extensive lymph node involvement in the armpit or above or below the collarbone. Stage III breast cancer typically requires a mastectomy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy.

Stage IV breast cancer has spread to the brain, bones, skin, or other organs. Unfortunately the cancer is incurable at this point and treatment is usually only systemic with hormonal therapy or chemotherapy.

Until more is known about preventing breast cancer, early detection and effective treatment offer the best defense against breast cancer mortality.

The five-year relative survival rate for Stage I breast cancer is 98 percent. A more advanced stage offers less than a 24 percent chance of survival for five years.

As a woman and a physician who has seen way too many women struggle through breast cancer, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that every one of us 40 and above (or younger depending on your family history) must get an annual screening mammogram. It’s our best defense.

Shawnta L. Speer, M.D., specializes in internal medicine and hematology/oncology. She is associated with the Phoebe Cancer Center and the Carlton Breast Health Center, a Center of Excellence in Breast Imaging through the American College of Radiology, and a Center of Excellence in Breast Cancer through the American College of Surgeons.