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Breast cancer is not a death sentence

Published on | Eric Brown

When we have to break the news to a patient that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer, in most conversations, the reaction is very similar – as soon as they hear “breast cancer,” they stop listening. Their mind immediately begins thinking, “I’m going to die.” That’s when we quickly begin talking a patient off the cliff.

The words “breast cancer” and “death sentence” are not synonymous.

Breast cancer is a common disease and highly curable with modern treatment. If you learn nothing more from this article, remember that: breast cancer is highly curable.

In most patients, breast cancer is found at an early stage when the cancer is small and has not spread beyond the lymph nodes; this means the cure rates are extremely high. Early onset of breast cancer has a very small chance of spreading. When diagnosed at it’s earliest stage, only about 2 percent of women with breast cancer will die of their disease within 20 years.

Women can take some proactive steps to reduce their risks and improve their success. For one, when your family physician orders a mammogram, get one. Do not delay this diagnostic procedure. A lot of women procrastinate because they are worried they will hear bad news, however, if they obtain a mammogram, the chances of diagnosing breast cancer in its early stages increases the cure rate significantly, and requires fewer interventions.

Additional treatments in addition to surgery can include chemotherapy, radiation or both. Surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy) is usually not necessary. More often than not, women can keep their breasts. We discuss these options thoroughly with patients so they completely understand the pros and cons of each treatment option , and can make educated choices with confidence, while reducing their fears and anxiety.

It is so important that women empower themselves to take an active part in the process toward a cure.

Here are a few steps to consider:

Control your body weight and try to reduce your BMI (body mass index) through weight loss and better eating. 

Cut out processed foods, choose healthier foods like fruits and veggies, and even take a nutrition class to learn more about how to replace bad foods with good foods.

If you are a smoker, do everything you can to quit now. 

Smoking has major implications in treatment. Smoking causes damage to the small blood vessels, which can affect wound healing. In  addition, chemotherapy is delivered by the blood stream; as small blood vessels are damaged, their ability to carry the chemotherapy is impaired. Soon after you quit, your circulation begins to improve.

Obtain a mammogram regularly. 

Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25 percent to 30 percent or more. Women of average risk should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40. Follow your physician’s guidance.

From a male breast surgeon’s perspective, I find women are a lot stronger than they realize. A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be alarming and drastically alters a patient’s life. They are scared, and don’t think they have the strength to move forward. They begin their journey at the foothills of a mountain, knowing the journey ahead is long, exhausting and life changing. It all seems too overwhelming. They encounter battle scars along the way – physical changes in their body and emotional roller coaster rides. Somehow, they find that inner strength to continue climbing and fighting until they ultimately arrive at the other side of the mountain peak. And, when they do, celebrating that personal victory with them is what makes our work as physicians so worthwhile.

Remember, your physician is at your side through the entire process, offering you the tools and resources to achieve a successful outcome.

Authors: Eric Brown, MD, FACS; and Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS

Eric Brown, MD, FACS, has been caring for breast patients for 20 years. He is board certified in General Surgery and certified in Breast Ultrasound. He previously served as Director of Oncology Services at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, and also as Director of the Center for Breast Health at Beaumont – Troy. Dr. Brown is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the William Beaumont Oakland University School of Medicine. He is actively involved in research and serves as the Co-Principle Investigator of the Beaumont Cancer Institute Clinical Oncology Research Program. He was voted top breast cancer doctor for 2015 by Newsweek Magazine, and has been named a “Top Doc” for Metro Detroit by Hour Detroit Magazine for the past eight years.

Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS, is a fellowship trained breast surgeon who has been caring for breast patients since 2006. She has been certified in Breast Ultrasound since 2007. She was named the first Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Genesys Regional Medical Center in 2006 where she served for three years. After that, she opened her own private practice – the Michigan Center for Breast Health. She is actively involved with the American Society of Breast Surgeons and is an investigator and participant in a number of clinical trials, under the oversight of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Gold is the director for the breast surgery fellowship for McLaren Health System, Flint campus. She has served as a national breast ultrasound reviewer for the American Society of Breast Surgeons since 2007, which certifies other surgeons in breast ultrasound.

Dr. Brown and Dr. Gold work at Comprehensive Breast Care at 4967 Crooks Road in Troy. To reach the physicians, call 248.687.7300.


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