When her doctor uttered those four little words, You have breast cancer, Nichole Watson-Serran felt as though her world had split in half.
The diagnosis was devastating, Watson-Serran said. I lost my mother at 45 and my grandmother at 51 to breast cancer. So at 37, when I received my diagnosis, I automatically assumed it was a death sentence. I thought my world was changed forever.
Watson-Serran's world did change, but less dramatically than she imagined. Thanks to the radical new treatment options available today, women are being diagnosed at earlier stages of the disease, qualifying many of them for less invasive medical treatments.
Radiation is a great option now, said Dr. May Lin Tao. In fact, a woman can receive radiation treatment in just five days, rather than the five to seven weeks it used to take, allowing a woman to continue her normal daily activities.
Tao, a Sutter Delta Medical Center affiliated physician and radiation oncologist at the EpicCare Center in Antioch, said the goal of treating breast cancer today is not only to eliminate the disease but to maintain the patient's quality of life through the use of less toxic, more focused treatments. Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI) is one procedure that does just that.
Used in low-risk patients after a lumpectomy (the surgical removal of a breast tumor), APBI is a localized radiation technique that precisely targets the tumor site and surrounding breast tissue, allowing the safe delivery of an intense radiation dose.
For women receiving left-sided whole breast radiation, the Breath Hold Technique is also helpful. It uses a breathing device called a spirometer to assist the patient in briefly holding her breath at specific intervals during the radiation treatment. This allows her to move the chest wall away from her heart, minimizing radiation exposure to the cardiac tissue and reducing the long-term risks of heart disease.
Treatments have come a long way since Watson-Serran's mother was diagnosed with cancer over 14 years ago. Still, it is important to understand that while many of these technologies are promising, early detection is the key ingredient in qualifying for many of the less toxic breast cancer treatments. By performing regular breast self exams, being aware of risk factors, scheduling regular doctor visits and getting annual mammograms, a woman can significantly increase her odds of surviving breast cancer.
Courtesty of Andrea Stuart, Sutter Delta Medical Center