Breast Cancer is Treatable

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. The overall five-year survival rate from this disease in the United States is 90 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. The earlier the cancer is detected, the better the prognosis.

Ayana Allard-Picou, MD
Ayana Allard-Picou, MD

“Even though breast cancer is scary, the majority of breast cancers are treatable and the number of deaths are going down,” said Dr. Ayana Allard-Picou, a board-certified surgical oncologist with Bassett Healthcare Network.

There are approximately 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Currently, the average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer is about 13 percent. Although breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, men can get breast cancer, too.

Breast cancer can present in many ways. Some signs to be aware of include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Dimples in the skin of the breast
  • Sudden enlargement of the breast
  • A lump in or near the breast or underarm
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast
  • If the breast or nipple becomes red or inflamed

It is important to get clinical breast exams and mammograms annually after the age of 40. Mammograms detect 80 percent of the cases of breast cancer.

Many advances in medicine have led to early detection of breast cancer. At Bassett, the availability of 3D mammography gives radiologists detailed, layered views of the breast. Ultrasound may also be recommended for some patients.

“Most breast cancers are detected at an early stage,” said Dr. Allard-Picou.

The medical profession categorizes cancers in stages. Stage 0 is considered pre-cancerous when the tumor is localized in the lining of a breast duct or lobule. In Stage 1, the tumor is still localized in the breast but is 20 mm in diameter or smaller. This is the most commonly found stage. Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread or metastasized to other organs of the body like the brain, the liver, and the lungs.

Vicki Noxon, Human Resources generalist for Cobleskill Regional Hospital, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and had a left breast mastectomy in 2017. This was followed by three months of chemotherapy, one treatment every three weeks.

“After each treatment, I was nauseated and had a metallic taste in my mouth. I lost all my hair. Early detection, proper medical care, a positive attitude, and a great support system from family and friends were instrumental in helping me to get through this difficult time. This disease can be beaten,” she said.

“Breast cancer requires multidisciplinary management,” said Dr. Allard-Picou. After seeing their primary care practitioner and having a mammogram read by a radiologist, a breast cancer patient at Bassett will often see three specialized physicians: a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a surgical oncologist. This multidisciplinary team approach to cancer management results in improved patient outcomes.

Medical terminology like “invasive ductal carcinoma” can be scary to patients because many still associate the word cancer with a death sentence.

The earlier the cancer is detected, the better the prognosis. The National Cancer Institute reports if localized, the five-year survival rate is 98.9 percent. If the cancer has spread widely, it drops to 28.1 percent.

If you have a have a strong family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or colon cancer, Dr. Allard-Picou recommends that you “speak with your primary physician as you may qualify for genetic testing.” There are many genes which make some women more susceptible to breast cancer, with BRCA 1 and 2 being the most well-known.

Genetic testing is another medical advance Bassett offers to patients.

Note: Bassett Healthcare Network protects its patients’ privacy. The individual quoted agreed to share her story to raise awareness about breast cancer.