By Dr. Arie Dosoretz
Every October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month represents an opportunity to reassess the impact of breast cancer in our lives and the lives of those we love, as well as our community as a whole.
One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2020, the American Cancer Society estimates 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the U.S. Doctors will diagnose another 48,530 cases of non-invasive breast cancer this year.
These are statistics that demand our full attention.
As each year passes, it’s important to document the progress we’re making in our fight against this disease. While we were previously focused on a “mortality rate,” we now more frequently reference breast cancer statistics in terms of a “survival rate.” The five-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer now stands at 91%, and the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer is 99%.
Those statistics are more encouraging. Breast cancer is survivable.
In order to continue making progress, we as a society must focus on breast cancer long after October ends, paying close attention to these three points:
- Risk factors
Not every woman has the same chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk naturally increases as women age. Additional risk factors include obesity in post-menopausal women, menopausal hormone therapy and alcohol consumption.
Family history of breast cancer is also important to consider. Several known inherited genetic mutations are associated with breast cancer. Establishing a strong doctor-patient relationship is a key step in identifying risk factors at an early age.
- Early detection
Mammograms remain a highly effective way to detect breast cancer at an early stage, which ultimately improves survival rates. This procedure is low-risk and is typically covered under a health insurance plan. The American Cancer Society recommends that women between the ages of 40 and 44 years old should be given the option to begin annual mammography, and women 45 years and older should undergo annual screenings.
Early detection essentially gives patients and their physicians a head-start in developing a cancer treatment plan if one is needed.
- Effective treatments
Treatment of breast cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and systemic treatment in the forms of chemotherapy and hormone-therapy. Surgical approaches include a breast-conserving surgery, often called a lumpectomy, in which the tumor is removed and the rest of the breast is preserved. The other common surgery is a mastectomy, a surgery in which the entire breast is removed.
Radiation is typically recommended for most patients who undergo breast-conserving surgery. That minimizes the risk that cancer returns in the breast or lymph nodes. The use of systemic treatment in the form of chemotherapy before or after surgery depends on the stage and subtype of the cancer. Hormone (anti-estrogen) therapy is commonly used as well.
Radiation techniques have improved tremendously in minimizing the side effects of treatment while making the treatment more convenient. Many breast cancers can now be treated in only three to four weeks with radiation, and ongoing trials are studying courses as short as five total treatments.
Early detection, effective treatments and continued research are our best allies in the battle against breast
cancer. We will continue to stand proudly with our patients and loved ones in their fight against this disease.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Arie Dosoretz is a board-certified radiation oncologist and a founding partner at
Advocate Radiation Oncology, a locally owned and operated practice with offices in Fort
Myers, Cape Coral and Port Charlotte. For more information, visit AdvocateRO.com.