Breast Cancer (cont.)
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Breast cancer facts
- What is breast cancer?
- What are the different types of breast cancer?
- What causes breast cancer?
- What are breast cancer risk factors?
- What are breast cancer symptoms and signs?
- How is breast cancer diagnosed?
- How is breast cancer staging determined?
- What is the treatment for breast cancer?
- What is the prognosis of breast cancer?
- Can breast cancer be prevented?
- What research is being done on breast cancer? Should I participate in a clinical trial?
- I may have breast cancer. What questions should I ask my doctor?
- Is the doctor sure I have breast cancer?
- What type of breast cancer do I have?
- What difference does a precise diagnosis make?
- What has been done to exclude cancer in other areas of the same breast or in my other breast?
- What type of medical team do I need for the most accurate diagnosis?
- Is my family history relevant to my breast cancer diagnosis?
- What other studies should be done on my tissue biopsy?
- How urgent is it that I make decisions and begin treatment?
- Should I stop taking hormone therapy (HT)?
- Even though my breast tumor does not have hormone receptors, should I take tamoxifen to reduce the risk of a new tumor?
- I have a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a type of localized cancer. Why have I been advised to have a mastectomy when other women with invasive cancer have lumpectomies?
- Should I start chemotherapy before surgery?
- If I am advised to have a mastectomy, what are the risks and benefits of immediate breast reconstruction?
- Should my lymph nodes be removed?
- What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy and what are its benefits and risks?
- Are there any other questions I should ask my doctor?
- Breast Cancer FAQs
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
How urgent is it that I make decisions and begin treatment?
It is extremely rare that a patient must be rushed into treatment. The biology of breast tumors is established fairly early in their development, and by the time the tumors are detectable, most have been growing undetected for considerably more than a year. This means that if you take a few weeks to complete a thorough evaluation, obtain appropriate consultations, understand the situation, discuss the alternatives and initiate a treatment plan, it is not likely to add any significant risk. This time frame, however, should allow the facts of your case to be carefully sorted out and errors to be minimized. Your treatment team should be able to help you in this process and specifically advise you on the urgency to start certain treatments.
Are there controversies in the recommended treatments among experts?
Doctors may differ in their recommendations if they weigh the risks differently. There will always be uncertainties in any given case. These issues are rarely "right versus wrong." They can be compared with decisions such as "how do I balance my desire to have the largest and safest care with the need to have convenience and economy?" There are tradeoffs. For example, certain breast cancer treatment options may favor cosmetic appearance but slightly increase the risk of recurrence in the affected breast. If you have concerns, a second opinion by a different treatment team can often be helpful.
How might my treatment affect future risks and follow-up treatment?
There are often indirect consequences of treatment decisions. For example, breast-conservation therapy achieves, as its goal, treatment of the breast cancer along with preservation of the breast. This is clearly a highly desirable objective. However, in doing so, it leaves the possibility that cancer may recur in that breast. The risk is small but is definitely there. Most of the time, the recurrence will be recognized and the new tumor treated early, but not always.
These risks mean that a patient choosing breast-conservation therapy must have the treated side (and the other breast as well) carefully monitored with regular examinations and imaging tests. Occasionally, tissue abnormalities develop which may suggest a new or recurrent cancer, thereby necessitating further evaluation with more tests or even another biopsy. The majority of these abnormalities turn out to be benign, perhaps caused by benign breast disease or changes from the surgery and radiation therapy. But the psychological impact of having to repeat such an evaluation may be very upsetting to some patients. Breast conservation is not appropriate for every breast cancer patient or breast cancer type.
There are similar considerations in each treatment plan that have to be understood and carefully evaluated before committing to a particular method of therapy. You should discuss these issues thoroughly with your doctor.
Should genetic testing be part of the treatment decision process?
The majority of breast cancers occur as unconnected (sporadic) cases and are not caused by an inherited genetic abnormality (mutation) passed from parent to child. However, if you have close family members, such as a mother or sister, who have had the disease, especially if it occurred at a young age, then the possibility of a genetic predisposition to develop cancer cells should be investigated. In these situations, genetic testing may provide valuable information. The test results may affect not only recommendations for your therapy but may also have major implications for other family members as well. Gene testing should only be done after careful genetic counseling so that everyone has a thorough understanding of the potential value and also the limitations of these tests.
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