Life After Breast Cancer Treatment
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 61, is a breast cancer survivor who’s acting career has not slowed down. And now fans can get excited about the upcoming release of her movie, You People, on January 27, 2023.
- Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2017. She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy to treat the disease.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer but earlier if they are at a higher risk. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
- Monitoring is essential after breast cancer treatment, but it’s important to remember that most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment. Breast cancer survivors can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment, according to one of our experts.
Louis-Dreyfus is perhaps best known for her role as Elaine in the sitcom, “Seinfeld.” But she’s also impressed us with her acting in the political satire “Veep,” her introduction to the Marvel cinematic universe and her performances in many other TV shows and films.Read More
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Louis-Dreyfus should be delivering a hilarious performance as the mother of the main character (Jonah Hill) from the looks of the trailer. And regardless of how the movie ranks among viewers, the SurvivorNet family is happy to see the actress thriving after beating cancer not too long ago.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Cancer Battle
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
“1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she posted in a tweet from Sept. 28, 2017. “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.”
To better understand Louis-Dreyfus’ diagnosis, it’s important to talk about what ‘stage’ means for breast cancer patients.
“Stage really refers to how big a tumor is and how many lymph nodes are involved,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a SurvivorNet medical advisor, previously told SurvivorNet. “Stage is kind of an old way of thinking about how we treat breast cancer. But, yet, it is still one of the ways that we put patients into categories to figure out the types of treatments that may be available to them.”
Louis-Dreyfus’s cancer was diagnosed at stage 2.
“When a woman has stage 2 breast cancer, it means that the tumor’s probably bigger than 2 cm and/or she has lymph nodes involved,” Dr. Comen explained. “And if she has lymph nodes involved, she probably doesn’t have that many lymph nodes involved. Because if you have more lymph nodes, like 10, 11, 12, then that might be referred to as Stage 3 cancer.”
After undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy for treatment, she announced she was cancer-free in October 2018. Since then, she’s been working on a lot of projects and taking in all the beautiful moments of life. In addition, she’s continuously used her platform to educate about breast cancer and advocate for cancer survivors.
“It sounds kind of corny, but there’s something about after you’ve walked through something like this, which is such a crisis, to be able to help someone who’s then going through,” she said in a 2019 interview. “It’s very, sort of, comforting to yourself in a weird way. It really is something that I’m happy to do. It gives me a lot of energy and a good feeling, for sure.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is much more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms while remembering that having one or many of them does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Regardless, you should always speak with a doctor promptly if anything ever feels off or you’re experiencing one or more of the signs listed above. You never know when speaking up about your health can lead to a very important diagnosis.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Monitoring after Breast Cancer Treatment
Most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been cancer-free for quite some time now. But it’s important to note that breast cancer survivors need to undergo monitoring after completing treatment.
“Remission’s a complicated word to use with breast cancer, because we hope that the women that we treat with early-stage non-metastatic breast cancer are cured,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen previously told SurvivorNet. “But we know that breast cancer can come back years, even decades later.”
That’s why breast cancer survivors undergo monitoring. Dr. Comen says patients can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment.
“In the beginning, when a woman has recently completed her treatment, I usually see women every three to four months to do a breast exam,” Dr. Comen said. “They will get imaging every year or every six months, depending on – in conjunction with the surgeon or radiologist – what may or may not be appropriate for imaging.
“We may do blood work about once a year…. And of course, when I’m seeing patients every three to four months I will be doing an exam, but also asking them how they feel.”
When having a follow-up appointment as a breast cancer survivor, it’s important to share any unusual or relentless symptoms you’ve been experiencing. That being said, most aches and pains are just a part of normal life. But symptoms that don’t seem to go away may be cause for concern.
“Do they have a pain that hasn’t gone away in months? Or do they have shoulder pain every now and again when they play tennis but it goes away, it gets better and it comes back months later, and then gets better?” Dr. Comen explained. “There are different types of aches and pains that we think about and that we look for with patients.”