October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer risks, the value of screening and early detection, and treatment options available to women and men who are diagnosed with one of the many forms of breast cancer. More than 249,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year, and nearly 41,000 die from the disease. Over the years, a loop of pink ribbon has come to symbolize breast cancer awareness, and today the image of a pink ribbon can be found emblazoned on thousands of products, from apparel to dishware to office supplies. But there’s more to awareness than just wearing pink.
Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point. The good news is that many women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. A mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat. There’s a whole world of testing that goes along with taking care of your breasts. Although medical tests can be nerve-wracking — especially when it comes to waiting for results — they are essential in keeping your breasts healthy and getting you proper care if you develop breast cancer.
Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two breast cancers are exactly the same, either. Your doctor will order a series of tests on the cancer and nearby tissues to create a “profile” of how the breast cancer looks and behaves. Some of these tests are done after the initial biopsy (removal of tissue sample for testing), others in the days and weeks after lumpectomy or mastectomy. Each time testing is done, your doctor receives a report of results from the laboratory. All of these lab reports together make up your complete pathology report. Your pathology report is so important because it provides information you and your doctor need to make the best treatment choices for your particular diagnosis.
In recent years, there’s been an explosion of life-saving treatment advances against breast cancer, bringing new hope and excitement. Instead of only one or two options, today there’s an overwhelming menu of treatment choices that fight the complex mix of cells in each individual cancer. The decisions — surgery, then perhaps radiation, hormonal (anti-estrogen) therapy, and/or chemotherapy — can feel overwhelming. After the urgency of getting a diagnosis and figuring out a treatment plan, there can still be many things to manage in your daily life. If you are being or have been treated for breast cancer, certain everyday realities may make themselves known: staying organized, paying for treatment, maintaining a job, making lifestyle changes, and managing symptoms and side effects.
There are surely other questions you will wish to ask. Do not hesitate to be very open about your concerns with your doctor. The foregoing questions and comments should demonstrate that the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer may not be a simple process. Even when all the information is available, there may be difficulties in deciding a proper course of action. However, this decision-making process has a better chance of success when you and the doctor are well-informed and communicating effectively. Although the information here cannot be all-inclusive, we hope it will help you work through this process.