Breast Cancer

State Representative John Zerwas, M.D.

Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in the breast tissue. It can occur in both men and women, but it is much more common in women. After skin cancer, it is the most common cancer in women. Due to substantial funding and extensive research, the survival rate has markedly increased, primarily due to early detection and better treatment modalities.

It’s not clear why some people develop cancer and others do not, but it is likely due to an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.  The most well-known mutated genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Blood tests can be performed to identify these genes if there is a strong family history of breast cancer.

Signs and symptoms include such things as a lump or thickening in the breast, a change in the shape of the breast or the skin of the breast, a newly developed inverted nipple  or a redness of the skin of the breast. Any of these should prompt you to see your physician.

Diagnosing breast cancer begins with an examination by your physician. If indicated, a mammogram may be performed to determine next steps. Breast ultrasound might be used to further characterize a mass or an abnormality on a mammogram. Ultimately a sample of breast mass cells (biopsy) is necessary to definitive make a diagnosis.

Treatments vary depending on the cell type and whether the disease has metastasized. Most patients undergo some surgery, as well as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation.  There are many options for treating breast cancer and for that reason seeking a second opinion to better understand your options is appropriate.

Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on relief from pain and other symptoms from a serious illness. The care is provided by a team of caregivers, which include physicians, nurses and other professionals.  These specialists work with the patient and the family to provide an additional layer of support and care while undergoing aggressive treatments.

Reducing the risk or early detection of breast cancer includes the following:

Consult your physician regarding the best time to begin mammograms.
Breast self examination. Early detection is a key factor in battling this disease.
Drink alcohol in moderation.
Incorporate daily exercise if possible.
Limit post menopausal hormone therapy if possible.
Choose a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.

Great strides have been made in the treatment of cancer. The State of Texas has taken a very aggressive approach to finding cures to cancer by the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in 2007. The institute is directing $3 billion over 10 years to find cures and prevent many different cancers including breast cancer.