By Heather Mullinix
As a woman in my mid-30s, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about developing breast cancer. I don’t have a family history of the disease, but many women do not have relatives affected when they learn they have breast cancer. I do have several risk factors — primarily I’m a woman and I’m getting older. But there are other risk factors, as well, such as being in my mid-30s and not having had a child, or the fact I smoked for many years.
For a grown-up, cancer is the giant boogeyman hiding under the bed. And I am afraid.
Several years ago, the Chronicle started the breast cancer awareness series to share the stories of breast cancer survivors in our community. It’s a way to remind women to get their annual mammogram and to discuss their risks with their doctors. It also offers encouragement and support to those women, and men, who have fought cancer and won, and to honor those who passed on. We’ve heard from women that were diagnosed at all different stages of their lives with different types of cancer. We’ve even heard from a local man who was struggling with breast cancer, because men are affected, too, but often don’t have the same resources available to them for support and treatment.
I want to thank all those women who shared their stories with me. I am truly humbled, honored and thankful, and I hope I did your stories justice.
During this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, hopefully readers have learned the importance of getting familiar with what’s normal for your body, so that you can recognize changes that need a second look, and the importance of regular screenings appropriate for your age, medical history, family history and personal risk factors. Early detection is the best defense against cancer. The earlier it is identified, the greater the chance of survival and the more treatment options that are available to you.
Research into breast cancer is advancing at an amazing rate, with new breakthroughs all the time. The medical community is researching the cause of breast cancer, including factors we can control, like our diet and behaviors, and things we can’t control, such as our genes. Right now, there’s the Sister Study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that includes more than 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. There’s also the Two Sister Study, looking at possible causes of early onset breast cancer. Visit www.sisterstudy.org to learn more.
There are also studies on new, better, more effective treatments and preventative treatments.
Researchers are studying ductal carcinoma in-situe, which sometimes leads to invasive breast cancer but, in some women, it may never invade and remain localized. Researchers are looking for ways to help women decide how to best treat such cancers. They’re looking for new lab tests that can help find circulating tumor cells, where cells break away from the tumor and enter the blood stream.
New imaging methods are being studied to see how effective they are in evaluating abnormalities that may be breast cancers, including molecular breast imaging and 3-D mammography.
One of the greatest advances provided by research is discovering that there are different types of breast cancer. A physician I know said that, at one time, there were but two types of breast cancer, left or right. Now, there’s different types that have been identified based on where the tumor is located and if it is localized, in situ, or invasive. There’s also breast cancers that are fed by estrogen or progesterone. There’s triple-negative breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors or an excess of HER2 protein. Today, treatment will depend greatly on which type of cancer is diagnosed, and long-term therapy can be used to reduce the chances of reoccurrence.
There’s a lot going on in the world of cancer research at large, and for breast cancer, in particular. Each new discovery puts us closer to a world without cancer, or a world where cancer doesn’t have to be such a scary word.
To the many survivors, of all forms of cancer, in our community, I salute you and I just want to say, keep up the good fight.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.