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Early detection and treatment still the best options for breast cancer

December 14th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Nick Rust

LaRue Lewis was at a routine check-up with her physician in September, 2008, when he suggested she have a mammogram. “It had just been a while since I had one,” the 75-year-old Mendon woman said. “I had to go back for an ultrasound, and they told me I had breast cancer.

“I was really shocked because there was no history of breast cancer in my family,” Lewis said.

According to the Mammography and Women’s Imaging Center (MWIC) at Logan Regional Hospital, more than 192,000 American women will develop breast cancer this year and 40,200 will die. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site, www.komen.org, says “except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women … and it can be successfully treated.”

The best chance to fight breast cancer is to find it early and seek treatment. Although there is no form of prevention yet, finding it early will give you more treatment options, more affective treatment and greater chance for survival according to the Komen Web site. It recommends women have a clinical breast exam at least every three years after the age of 20, and every year at the age of 40. It also says that women of average risk should also have a mammogram every year after the age of 40. Eating a low-fat diet, not smoking, exercising regularly and drinking in moderation if at all, are also contributing factors to decreasing risk.

Another way to combat breast cancer and detect it early is to “be familiar with how your breasts feel and what is ‘normal’ for you,” says the MWIC.

Lewis said she was able detect the cancer in the early stages. She started chemotherapy on Oct. 30, 2008, and continued treatment until the end of May 2009. “That was the bad part,” she said. “When I first started I was really sick.”

She made friends with other cancer patients and they helped her get through it. “They were the happiest and most caring people I have ever been around, she said. “It made it bearable to go through.”

Lewis said the cancer treatment center and its staff were also key in her recovery. The center has support groups set up for cancer patients in Cache Valley that help patients as well. “The nurses and doctors at that clinic are the greatest,” she said. “It’s great to have that facility in Logan. It was wonderful.”

Although not all lumps found in breasts are cancerous, the whole experience of finding a lump can be scary in itself. Just ask Crystal Walker, 26, of River Heights, who found a lump in her breast when she was only 14 years old. At the time, her aunt was receiving chemotherapy to treat breast cancer and had recently had both of her breasts removed.

“That was really scary as a 14-year-old, knowing that could be an option,” said Walker, now married and the mother of two young girls. “The hardest part was that it took like two weeks to get the results back.” The lump was found to be non-cancerous and was just a “hyperactive cyst” said Walker. She says she feels more informed than most women her age and regularly does self-examinations and gets checked by a doctor as well.

Walker says breast cancer runs in her family and besides her aunt; her maternal grandmother has also been diagnosed with the disease. The MWIC says “a woman is considered at a higher risk for breast cancer if she has a mother, sister or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Some five percent of all breast cancer patients, but as many as 25 percent of women diagnosed at age 35 or younger, are believed to carry a breast cancer gene, BRCA1 or BRCA2. A carrier of this gene may have as high as an 85 percent lifetime chance of developing breast cancer.”

The Komen site says the chance of breast cancer diagnosis doubles for women with direct relatives who have had breast cancer, and if they have more than one the chance increases to about three or four times. According to www.komen.org, other risk factors are having menopause at age 55 or older, having your first child after the age of 35, having your first period before age 12, drinking alcohol, or lack of exercise, among others. It also says breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women.

“The risk increases the older you get,” says Holly Eggli, a mammographer at the MWIC.

The MWIC says the most significant increase in diagnosed cases of breast cancer have been in women 50 and older. In fact, 78 percent of breast cancers occur in women age 50 and older compared to just 6 percent in women under 40. It also says incidences in women age 40-49 years of age are increasing. The Komen site says 95 percent of all diagnoses of breast cancer are of women 40 and older, and this is because as women get older, it is more likely abnormal changes will occur in cells and many cell changes have to occur before cancer will develop.

Women under the age of 40 are still at risk, especially if there is a family history of the disease. Eggli says breast cancer can be more aggressive with younger women as well.

Lewis had a lumpectomy soon after her cancer was diagnosed. A lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery is the most common form of breast cancer surgery today, according to www.breastcancer.org. It is a surgery where only the tumor and some surrounding tissue are removed. A mammogram in October 2009 revealed no cancer in Lewis’ breast.

“When I was sick I didn’t know if I wanted to make it through it,” Lewis said. “Now, I’m glad I made it through.”

Breast cancer can affect all ages of women, but can be treated if caught early enough. Just ask survivor Lewis: “Life is great!” she said.


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