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Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment Advances Improving Lives

Tulsa World (OK)


Oct. 14--Each year it is estimated that more than 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the second leading cause of death among women.

Some risk factors are controllable, such as smoking, while others, such as genetics, are not.

The good news is that death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1990.This is due, in part, to better screening and early detection, increased awareness and continually improving treatment options.

"The recent advances in breast cancer research are developments that have resulted from genomic and genetic testing," said Dr. John Frame, breast surgeon with Cancer Treatment Centers of America. "We are closer to routinely investigating the exact DNA/genomic makeup of each individual breast cancer. Parallel with this are developing new applications of cancer drugs that can more directly attack the breast cancer based on its individual DNA makeup.

"Additionally, the genetic testing of many individuals allows a more exact estimation of that individual's risk of developing breast cancer," said Dr. Frame.

So much has changed over the years. When a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer 40 years ago, the recommendation at that time was to undergo a mastectomy to remove the entire breast.

"With the advances, we are able to find cancers earlier with mammograms and are able to provide better treatment as a result," said Dr. Andrew L. Chang, radiation oncologist and principal investigator for the proton beam radiation therapy for partial breast irradiation with ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City. "Women now can get a much smaller surgery, a lumpectomy with radiation of the whole breast."

Dr. Chang has seen further advances that allow doctors to provide less invasive treatments to their breast cancer patients.

"About five or six years ago, we looked at the women who had lumpectomies and whole-breast radiation, and we started asking whether the cancer came back in a specific area," said Dr. Chang. "Most of the time, we found the cancer actually came back right where the lumpectomy was. So for women who have gotten small cancers that are found very early and look like they are very well controlled, we are starting to treat these women with partial breast radiation to just that small portion of the breast where the cancer was found. Early results show that we can control the cancer just as well this way with many less side effects. Proton beam radiation, which is what I do, is a very precise form of radiation treatment and we can reduce the amounts to other parts of the body quite a bit."

Before selecting a treatment plan for breast cancer, a patient should be thoroughly informed of the multiple disciplines and specialists potentially involved in the care of breast cancer. Learn who they are, when they get involved and why they get involved. Rarely is a breast cancer treated with only one treatment. Conversely, breast cancer is a multi-disciplinary treatment. So a patient should be informed of all the players.

Integrative medicine can play a valuable role for breast cancer patients. Its primary purpose is to improve and maintain the patient's immune system and quality of life.

"We believe that the better a patient feels, the better she is able to fight her cancer," said Dr. Laurence Altshuler, director of oncology intake services, hospitalist and internist with Cancer Treatment Centers of America." Integrative medicine can significantly and effectively decrease symptoms of the cancer and treatment side effects. In addition, several herbs and supplements are demonstrating possible benefits in boosting the immune system.

Survivors of breast cancer often have residual side effects that can last for years, including lymphedema, fatigue and chemo brain (thinking and memory difficulties). "Integrative medicine can be very helpful in decreasing or resolving these long-term problems," said Dr. Altshuler.


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