Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to ensure that the risks, signs and basic facts of the disease remain top of mind for women. It is also the perfect time to begin a proactive approach to breast health for women of a certain age, and to let them know that they have access to detection and treatment options that are second to none, right here in Queens.
What is breast cancer and what causes it?
Cancer cells really have to do with our DNA molecules. Without bogging readers down in too much biology, occasionally there is an abnormality – a mistake, if you will – in the way a DNA molecule is made, which can cause cells to divide rapidly. That mass of cells can become a lump or swelling. So, breast cancer is a disease occurring when cells in the breast grow out of control.
If they are not treated in time, those cancer cells can metastasize, which means travel to other parts of the body. Left untreated in any location, cancer can become lethal. At the EMU Breast Center, we encourage people to be proactive with their breast health so we can try and catch cancers early. In the early stages, cancer can be more easily treated.
So, when dealing with breast cancer, early detection is the key.
What are some risks for breast cancer? Can they be reduced?
Some risk factors for breast cancer are beyond our control; among them are:
- Family history
- Previous radiation exposure
- Prior breast biopsy with benign or high risk results
- Genetic mutations such as BRCA
But, there are some risk factors that we can affect.
Estrogen & Hormone Therapy
We know that estrogen, the molecule that controls female hormones, can be fuel to the fire for breast cancer. So, being vigilant when under hormone replacement therapy is important.
Maintaining a Health Weight
We also tend to see higher estrogen levels in obese or overweight people, so maintaining a healthy weight is important.
Smoking & Drinking Alcohol
There is data that smoking, as well as drinking alcohol, can both contribute to developing breast cancer. Quitting smoking and tempering drinking are both highly recommended.
Staying Healthy & Regular Check-ups
The best practice you can undertake to reduce your risk of having breast cancer also happens to be the best practice you can undertake for overall health – maintain a healthy diet and make sure to get daily exercise. The next best step, and this goes back to staying proactive, is to make and keep a schedule of regular check-ups with your doctor. That way, if a cancer is there, we can detect it early.
When should a woman begin to get mammograms?
There has been some debate in recent years, but at the EMU Breast Center we recommend beginning breast cancer screening at age 40. That means having a mammogram and physical exam at age 40 annually thereafter. Breast cancer becomes more common as women reach their late forties and early fifties, but even women in their early forties can develop breast cancer. And, since they’re younger, they have more estrogen circulating which can exacerbate the condition.
Again, it comes down to making sure we catch cancer as early as possible. Getting patients to visit annually gives us the chance to detect cancer at its smallest and most treatable state. If the cancer cells are dividing but we catch it early on, treatment is much easier.
We’re fortunate to have some of the latest and greatest equipment for detecting breast cancer available to us at EMU. Just one example is 3-D mammography, a huge advancement over 2-D for detection that has led to us seeing cancers being caught earlier. Patients need to understand that a cancer diagnosis is not a “life sentence” anymore. In fact, the disease is almost 100% treatable when caught early.
All this said, a woman should consult with her physician, someone who knows her personal medical history and health status, to devise the best course of action for them.
How does early detection affect treatment?
When we catch cancer early, those patients can be cured much more effectively than before, using less invasive surgery and less toxic chemotherapy. Not only have mammograms come a long way, but our colleagues in the oncology world have come a long way in terms of targeting the cancer cells with better treatments.
One example is the use of therapies that activate the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. So, instead of administering a toxic chemical that would stop all cells from dividing, it is targeting cancer cells and leaving the rest of the body’s cells unharmed.
Patients can also undergo a lumpectomy, where just the lump is removed rather than all of the breast tissue. Early detection can also help them avoid having chemotherapy, which can have toxic side effects. Even more developments will be coming out in the next few years, and we are very excited to be a part of that at Orange Regional Medical Center.
Visit EMU and see what we have to offer.
At the EMU Breast Center we are very proud to introduce the community to our doctors, the surgeons, the staff, and our latest technology, including:
- 3D mammogram
- Stereotactic buided breast biopsy with the Affirm upright biopsy system, which employs advanced, proprietary imaging technology to visualize even hard to see lesions
- Ultrasound guided breast biopsy process with Bard core biopsy system, which uses real-time ultrasound imaging for instant verification of needle position and automated biopsy specimen sampling.
This is technology on the leading edge, and we’re very excited to offer it to our community in Queens at EMU.
EMU’s Breast Center is home to a dedicated and passionate team focused on breast cancer. We provide access to new technologies that can help women be proactive with their breast health, both in detection and treatment. We’re happy to be here for our patients in the community.