Learning about Breast Cancer
- Actress Samantha Womack, 50, received her life-changing breast cancer diagnosis about five months ago. but now she says she’s cancer-free even though she’ll still have ongoing treatments.
- 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.
Womack, best known for starring in wildly popular soap “EastEnders,” previously shared that her diagnosis came after a random doctor’s appointment. She didn’t experience any symptoms or feel unwell at the time of her diagnosis.Read More
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“Now I’m just having some treatment as I go back to work, as a prevention,” she said. “We’re feeling a lot better than we were.
“My treatment is ongoing for breast cancer, the surgery was quite difficult to recover from just because it’s quite tender when you have lymph nodes removed, there’s a few mobility issues at the beginning.”
In addition, Womack said her chemotherapy treatments were “pretty hardcore” and “quite toxic,” but she was “lucky” to be able to recover in Spain.
“The mad thing about cancer when you have it, is you understand there are so many different roads, different diagnoses, it is a terrifying world,” she said of cancer journeys. “It’s terrifying at the beginning but if there was ever a time to have it, there are so many new treatments now that are changing the face of cancer, it’s amazing.”
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, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical advisor to SurvivorNet, 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
Samantha Womack’s treatment is still ongoing, but once she’s done with her
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.
“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.”