In observance of the return of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Ladue News asked Dr. Katherine Glover-Collins, a breast surgeon with the Siteman Cancer Center, to discuss new findings and best practices for preventing, detecting and beating breast cancer.
What do you think women need to be most aware of this year in terms of breast cancer prevention and treatment?
The good news is that breast cancer is beatable. We know more about it now than ever before. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and institutions across the country are working diligently on the disease that, while thankfully is less devastating than in the past because of advanced therapies, still robs too many women of too much.
The message I would share is twofold: Women ages 40 to 54 should get a mammogram every year. If you’re forgetful, plan it around your birthday, making it a gift to yourself and your loved ones. Women who are 55 or older can continue with annual mammograms, or they can switch to every other year. I advise that they speak with their primary care physician about what’s right for them.
The second part of the message is that there are proven ways to lower one’s risk of breast cancer, including being responsible about alcohol use, being physically active, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and learning and sharing with your physician your family history of breast disease. Two great prevention resources are Your Disease Risk (siteman.wustl.edu/prevention/ydr) and 8ight Ways to Prevent Cancer (8ightways.org).
Regarding breast cancer detection, what is your opinion of 3D or digital versus film mammography? Is digital clearly a better choice for all women?
Three-dimensional mammography is the recommended option. Benefits over traditional methods include better visualization of breast tissue, fewer callbacks for additional images and improved breast cancer detection rates, especially for cancers that are spreading.
In terms of the other imaging modalities, magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a standard adjunct for women who are considered high risk for breast cancer. These are women with a family history of breast cancer and women with known mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Advances continue in breast cancer treatments. What are the most important new treatments on the horizon?
Unfortunately, as we all know, breast cancer does strike. It’s encouraging to know, though, that new and refined breast cancer treatments are being announced and introduced regularly. One treatment that might be unfamiliar to a lot of people is immunotherapy, which trains a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. There are clinical trials available that are testing new forms of this therapy for breast cancer, including immune checkpoint inhibitors, monoclonal antibodies and biologic therapy. This work includes the development of vaccines aimed at preventing recurrence. Preliminary results suggest that it slows the progression of cancer. The ultimate goal is a vaccine that prevents breast cancer altogether.
What do you consider the biggest myths about breast cancer, and how would you set the record straight?
A big myth is that men don’t get breast cancer. While it’s extremely rare, they can and do. And when that happens, one of the first things we do is schedule an appointment with a genetic counselor because, oftentimes, men’s breast cancer is related to a genetic cause that affects other family members, too. When there are genetic underpinnings to breast cancer, we want all members of a family to be aware.
Another big myth is that biopsy or surgery on breast cancer causes the cancer to spread all over the body. This is simply not true. While there are patients who will have cancer spread to other parts of the body, it is not because they had surgery or biopsy. This is because the cancer was not caught in time to treat it before it had spread.
What is the one most important thing you think our readers should know about breast cancer detection and/or treatment right now?
There is more hope today than ever before. That’s not to say breast cancer is easy. Patients have rough days, days when they want to give up, days when they really need family and friends to lean on. But we’re all a team – the patient, her physician, her personal support network, the researchers who helped develop the many new therapies now available.
Everyone plays a part, and for each woman, that includes scheduling an annual mammogram. In most cases, it’s simply precautionary. In others, we want to know as soon as possible what we’re up against. Why? Because early diagnosis means more and better treatment options. If the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the breast, women have a 5-year survival rate of 99 percent. In other words, schedule your next mammogram.
Siteman Cancer Center, 800-600-3606, siteman.wustl.edu