Rosie O'Donnell's Cancer Scare
- Comedian Rosie O’Donnell, who has a family history of breast cancer, announced she was “cancer-free” more than 10 years ago. We’re looking back on the 61-year-old mom of five’s breast cancer scare which led her to undergo a lumpectomy.
- O’Donnell was aged 48 when she revealed she had an MRI and a biopsy done after doctors discovered two “spots” in her breasts. She ultimately was told her breast lumps were benign.
- When considering surgery for breast cancer, or to prevent breast cancer, one common decision that will arise for women is whether they should go through a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
- Lumpectomies are usually a good route to take for those diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
- According to Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, Director of the High-Risk Cancer Program at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, 10% of breast cancers are hereditary. Knowing whether you’re at increased risk of a breast cancer diagnosis can be a helpful way in catching the disease quick and in the early stages, which provides more treatment options.
The “A League of Their Own” star ultimately revealed she was “as close to perfect as life gets” after undergoing a biopsy and declaring herself “cancer free” after having a biopsy done in 2010.
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The blog post, written in haiku form, read, “a 2 word text/ and everything changes/ thank u/ amen/ babs on o/ as i type/ as close 2 perfect/ as life gets/ and i see the faces/ of the women in the waiting room/ praying they too/ got good news today.”
Expert Resources On Breast Cancer
- An Overview of Breast Cancer Treatment
- Do You Have HER2-Positive Metastatic Breast Cancer? Here’s A Breakdown Of Some Of Your Treatment Options
- Have You Been Diagnosed With Late-Stage Breast Cancer? Know That You Have Treatment Options.
- Recovering from a Lumpectomy
- Is Immunotherapy Effective in Treating Breast Cancer?
Prior to that blog post, O’Donnell went into detail about how she underwent testing 18 years after she had an initial lump removed when she was 30 years old.
“I had my first lump removed at 30/thumb sized fatty tissue/i went alone/i was living in los angeles,” she explained on her blog.
She concluded, by pointing out that “over 200 thousand women will be told they have breast cancer this year, 40 thousand will die from it, many more will live on.”
As per the Daily Mail, O’Donnell also mentioned how when she was just 10 years old, her mom died of cancer at age 39.
The Emmy Award-winning comedian, who co-authored a book titled “Bosom Buddies: Lessons and Laughter on Breast Health and Cancer,” explained how her mom was diagnosed at age 38 and succumbed to cancer just one year later.
She recounted it being “too late when they opened her up” in a hospital located in Huntington, New York, adding, “It was everywhere.”
More recently, O’Donnell talked about a “massive” heart attack she had more than 10 years ago.
Speaking on an episode of “The Best Podcast Ever ” she talked about how at age 50 she felt weak when helping a stranger and later was told by one of her children she looked like a “ghost,” according to People.
After ignoring some of the heart attack signs she had, O’Donnell explained, “The truth of the matter is, I had this heart attack on a Monday at 10 a.m.
“I get home, I can hardly walk upstairs. I take two baby aspirin, I go to sleep, I wake up and my family goes, ‘You have to go to the doctor.’ I waited until the next day. So it had it Monday and on Wednesday I saw a doctor.”
It wasn’t until she she visited a cardiologist who urged her to go to the emergency room as she was having a “massive heart attack.”
“I couldn’t believe it. And then I came to find out that the symptoms for a woman having a heart attack are very different than the symptoms for men having heart attacks. Yet what we see on TV are always men having heart attacks,” she said, dubbing herself “really lucky” after having a lifesaving operation.
She said the health scare forced her to “into my body and to be in touch with my body in a way that I never had been” and “pay attention.”
Unlike a mastectomy, which completely removes one or both breasts, a lumpectomy targets a specific part of the breast by removing only the tumor and surrounding tissue.
One of the main benefits of considering a lumpectomy, if it’s possible, is that the procedure itself only takes about an hour and the patient can usually go home the same day.
Some women may believe that going through a mastectomy is the best way of preventing a breast cancer diagnosis, but experts have told SurvivorNet that’s not always the case.
The size of the tumor, its genetic markers, and the patient’s family history are all factors to consider when choosing which surgery to undergo.
“So many patients will come in wanting both breasts removed, but we’ll end up with lumpectomy and radiation, which is really standard of care,” Dr. Sarah Cate, Chief of Breast Surgery, Stamford Hospital, previously told SurvivorNet.
The Importance Of Knowing Your Family History Of Cancer
Knowing whether you’re at increased risk of a breast cancer diagnosis can be a helpful way in catching the disease quick and in the early stages, which provides more treatment options.
In order to learn about your risk, Dr. Ginsburg recommends women go through genetic testing to learn about possible gene mutations which could make them more at risk of breast cancer.
“The real question of who is going to qualify for genetic testing is, to be honest, a moving target,” says Dr. Ginsburg.
“Nowadays, you can even self-refer and ask for testing. We encourage only those who have a family history to really get that kind of service if you need it.”
In a genetic test, your doctor will ask you about your family history and details on the types of breast cancer you or your family members had. From there, hereditary tests are done through a saliva or blood test.
Learning About Family History & Genetic Risk
If you’re considering getting genetic testing to assess your cancer risk, you should talk to your family members first, says Rachel Webster, a genetic counselor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, who previously spoke with SurvivorNet.
Genetic testing can empower people with important information, and knowing your family medical history can play a big role in determining if it’s necessary.
“Asking questions about what might be going on with your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, your grandparents … that’s going to make it a much easier process for your genetic counselor and your physician,” Webster explains.
She adds, “If somebody in your family is found to have a genetic predisposition to cancer, whether it be breast cancer or any other type of cancer, the first step is to start testing relatives most closely related to you.
“Those relatives might be brothers, sisters, parents children. Those first degree relatives are the ones that are at the highest probability of having that same genetic predisposition.”
Webster recommends meeting with a genetic counselor, because they will be able decide which type of genetic testing is best for you. And if you’re worried about an invasive test, don’t be.
“Genetic testing is probably the easiest test you have ever had in a cancer center. It is one tube of blood or a vial full of saliva.”
If you know you have a family history of cancer, learn as much as you can about it. Sharing this with your genetic counselor can help determine what type of screening you should get, and how significant your risk is.
If you discover that you do have a gene mutation, there are options available to manage your cancer risk, which includes enhanced screenings; prophylactic (risk-reducing) surgery, which involves removing as much of the “at-risk” tissue as possible; and chemoprevention, the use of medicines to reduce the risk of cancer.
WATCH: Understanding Genetic Tests for Breast Cancer
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff