Published Apr 12, 2022
It’s not everyday that you hear someone say their sports bra saved their life. But one breast cancer survivor from Grays, England, will shout it from the rooftops.
Sandra Greene, 54, was on a run when her bra began to feel uncomfortable. She started to chafe on her chest, and she discovered that a “bumpy vein” on her left breast was to blame upon her return home.
“I was really getting into my training when I realized that my bra was rubbing my chest,” she said. “It was a sports bra that I’d worn on many occasions and had always been comfortable, but, suddenly, it just felt wrong.”
Greene didn’t suspect breast cancer. But since she has a family history of the disease, she decided to book an appointment with her doctor to have the spot checked out. That’s when an MRI revealed she had multifocal lobular breast cancer. Multifocal meaning there was more than one tumor and all of which arose from one original tumor, and lobular meaning the cancer began in the lobules (milk glands) of the breast.
“It could have been a very different story if I hadn’t paid attention to my bra rubbing against my skin,” she said. “Thank goodness I checked as my cancer was caught early. That sports bra saved my life!”
Greene underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction in October, but now she’s on a seven-year course of hormone therapy. SHe’s feeling good, however, and ready to get back to doing what she loves.
“I feel so grateful to be here and I’m looking forward to the future,” she said. “I’m looking forward to taking part in lots more running challenges.”
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 more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
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, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 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.
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.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
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.