Archive for the ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ Category

Living With Cancer: What to Expect After the Diagnosis

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Alicia Staley - Cancer Survivor - Visual (Image from her site - awesomecancersurvivor.com

About a million and a half people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. this year. The devastating truth about cancer is that about one-third of these people will die from cancer at some point. For most, the diagnosis is unexpected and completely overwhelming.The cancer does not just affect how one feels, it undermines all sense of security and stability. It changes lifestyles and redefines relationships. So often the emotional trauma is equally shared among family members and loved ones.

Needless to say, the original cancer diagnosis marks the beginning of a difficult, frightening and frustrating experience. For this reason, it is critical not to despair. One must always remain hopeful, adjust, and prepare for the way to recovery. A fundamental step in this process is gaining an understanding and familiarity with the impending medical treatment and associated lifestyle changes. A good deal of stress can be avoided by simply understanding what to expect. While cancer treatment varies depending on the type of cancer and the individual characteristics of the patient, the patient should generally be aware of the following:

Chemotherapy

The vast majority of cancer patients will receive some degree of chemotherapy. This may consist of one or more chemotherapy cycles.  Each cycle can be as long as 3-6 months. Chemotherapy involves the administration of various chemical agents called antineoplastic drugs in order to stop cancerous cells from dividing. Antineoplastic drugs are designed to attack and kill cells that divide in an uncontrolled or rapid matter. Antineoplastic drugs, however, are not able to discriminate between cancerous cells and normal cells. Therefore, cells that divide rapidly as part of their normal life cycle are also attacked. Chemotherapy may cure the cancer entirely or control its growth. Many times, chemotherapy is used in conjunction with other treatments. Some associated complications of chemotherapy include:

  • Anemia
  • Hair Loss
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Heart damage
  • Deterioration of pre-existing medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, among other things.

Radiation Therapy

In addition to chemotherapy, a patient may also receive radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves exposing cancerous tissue to ionizing radiation (electromagnetic waves), which tends to destabilize the molecular structure of cancerous cells. In essence, the electromagnetic waves will ionize the atoms of the cancerous cells, by displacing electrons within the inherent structure of the atom. In turn, this process destabilizes the molecules of the cancerous cells, causing them to die.

Surgery

In a number of instances, cancer patients will also require surgery to treat their cancer. Often times, the malignant tumor is identifiable and localized (as opposed to metastasized). In such instances, timely surgery is preferred. Chemotherapy of radiation therapy may follow the surgery. The type of surgery  will vary depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. For example, a woman with ovarian cancer will likely undergo a total hysterectomy, including the removal of the ovaries. A patient with intestinal cancer may undergo a laparotomy with dissection of the cancerous tissue. Generally speaking, the sooner the cancer is identified, the less extensive the surgery.

Monitoring

After surgery and chemotherapy/radiation therapy, each cancer patient/cancer survivor should establish a systematic and well developed course of monitoring and supportive care with his/her physician. This will often involve a number of other health care providers such as physicians, nurses, and physical therapists. For example, a patient who has undergone treatment for ovarian cancer may require monitoring by an oncologist, a surgical oncologist, an internist (primary care physician), a gynecologist, and even a urologist. One must then factor in the extent to which the cancer treatment resulted in additional complications or the extent to which pre-existing medical conditions deteriorated as a result of the cancer treatment. As such, the patient may require the involvement of additional specialists to address and monitor the side effects of the cancer treatment. It is very important that the patient maintain a healthy nutrition and exercise regimen, if and as prescribed by the physician.

The bottom line is that cancer patients will invariably have a long and difficult road to recovery, which may take months or even years. Drastic lifestyle changes may be necessary, and patience as well as perseverance are essential. A cancer patient must know what to expect and be proactive to create support structures involving health care providers and family members/loved ones.

Helping Others in Need

If you or someone you know is a cancer patient/survivor, I encourage you to share your story with our readers. What helped you most to cope and persevere on your way to recovery?

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Ovarian Cancer: Five Tips to Get the Medical Care You Need

Ovarian Cancer: Early Intervention is Key – What You Must Know…

Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know About Digital vs. Film Mammograms

Warning to Women of Menopausal Age: HRT Linked to Increase in Death From Breast Cancer

Wrapping-up Breast Cancer Awareness Month – It’s a Year-Long Battle – Don’t Forget!

Friday, October 29th, 2010

This year we saw the NFL and White House go pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  As the 25th year of Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to close, it’s incredible to look back and see how far we have come over the past 25 years in promoting awareness and early detection as well as in the advances in treatment of this disease.

Cases of breast cancer are documented throughout history with the earliest reports dating back to Ancient Egypt in 1600 BC.  However, it wasn’t until the 17th Century in Europe that an understanding of the disease began to take place.  It was during this time that the first surgeries to remove the breast tumor, breast muscle and lymph nodes were performed to eradicate the disease from the body.  In 1882, William Stewart Halsted performed the first mastectomy, the Halstead Radical Mastectomy, which remained a popular treatment up until the 1970’s.  While this form of surgical treatment is rarely used today, there are three variations of Halstead’s procedure performed to remove breast tumors: partial mastectomy (also called lumpectomy), modified radical mastectomy, and the rarely used total simple mastectomy.

The movement to increase breast cancer research and awareness did not take off until the 20th century.  It was in 1952 that the American Cancer Society created the Reach to Recovery program, a group of women who would travel to hospitals to support patients who had mastectomies performed. This program remains in effect today.

By the 1970’s, breast cancer advocacy began to increase rapidly as more non-profit organizations and governmental organizations formed to increase knowledge and awareness as well as to sponsor research to aid in eradication of the disease. Over the last two decades, major breakthroughs in detection and treatment modalities have been made.

The first step to early detection was the development of modern mammography in 1969, when the first x-ray units dedicated to breast imaging were available. By 1976, mammography as a screening device became standard practice.  Mammograms are the best radiographic method available today as they can detect tumors that are too small to be felt. To increase early detection the Mammography Quality Standards Act was passed by Congress in 1992 to ensure that all women have equal access to quality mammography for detection of breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages as well as to improve the quality of mammography facilities. When breast cancer is detected, modern treatment typically involves a combination of surgery and medical treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or hormone therapy.  Advances in such treatments have resulted in increased five year survival rates.  Patients who get treatment in the early stages of breast cancer have a five year survival rate of 80% or better. Despite treatment advances, the most important thing for breast cancer survival is early detection through monthly self-checks and yearly mammogram examinations in women over the age of 40.  Lastly, advances in reconstructive surgery have helped women to feel more comfortable with their body image as well as restore confidence in their sexuality.

Despite these advances, every 69 seconds someone’s mother, sister, daughter or friend loses their life to breast cancer somewhere in the world.  While major advances in breast cancer detection and treatment have reduced the mortality rate from the disease, we still have a long way to go.

As Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to a close, we should take a moment to honor and remember those that have battled the disease by reminding ourselves and encouraging our loved ones to perform monthly self-checks and to obtain a yearly mammogram.

Breast cancer is not a one month a year disease. We need to encourage all women to fight breast cancer twelve months a year.