I got a call back to repeat an abnormal mammogram the day before I received this Time magazine in my mailbox. At the time, I was seriously considering what I’d do if I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was such a timely article, with several very important points I want to share.
Roughly 1.3 million women in the U.S. die each year. Some of the leading causes:
22% Heart disease, 18% Cancer (excluding breast), 5% Alzheimer’s, 3% Breast cancer
The chances a woman will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer: 1 in 800
Average age of breast cancer diagnosis in U.S.: 61
The chances a woman will die of breast cancer: 1 in 4,566
DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is known as Stage 0 breast cancer. It’s noninvasive & confined to the milk ducts. It accounts for 20-25% of breast cancers. These tend to be slow growing tumors that may never cause symptoms. Sometimes DCIS can be a risk factor for invasive breast cancer, but it isn’t necessarily a good reason to go and have a prophylactic mastectomy.
Developments in genomic testing and knowledge in the biology of different types of cancers are helping us realize breast cancer doesn’t have to be a one-treatment-fits-all approach. Many patients and doctors are rethinking the need to treat this type of cancer aggressively and elect to an “active surveillance” approach (mammogram alternating with MRI every 6 months and estrogen blocking drugs).
“Our two greatest challenges are figuring out better treatments for the 40,000 women who die of breast cancer every year…and figuring out who is getting exposed to needless surgery and toxicity”, says Dr. Eric Winer, director of breast oncology at Dana-Farber.
There is a retrospective study underway comparing active surveillance to standard care (lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy), and numerous studies looking at the various cancer genes besides BRCA, and how we can use the information in our genes to be more effective against cancer.
I’m grateful to live in a time where I have choices. I will be going back for further surveillance, and looking closer into my cancer genomics, so I can make the most informed choices regarding my own health and risk.