DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) - When someone says you fight like a girl, it's not usually meant as a compliment. However, when it comes to breast cancer, women can throw and take some tough punches. Men can also be impacted, but it's predominately found in women.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2 News brings you a week-long special series that celebrates survivors. They will share what they've learned during their journey. But first, experts in the field talk about caring for women dealing with the disease.
"It's such an earth-shattering diagnosis for a woman to hear," said Dr. Melissa Roelle, a surgeon at Miami Valley Hospital. She and her colleagues at Miami Valley South's High-Risk Breast Center use their minds, skills and hearts to battle breast cancer.
"Mammography saves lives, and women save each other," said Dr. M. Patricia Braeuning, a radiologist at Miami Valley South.
Hang on to the last part of what she just said, we'll get back to it in just a moment, but first, mammograms. Doctor Braeuning says they're still the best way to find breast cancer early. Mammograms can sometimes find the disease up to three years before it can be felt.
"Mortality deceases by at least 40% - if not greater - in people who have yearly mammography," said Braeuning. "It's not going to save everybody, but if you can save at least 40% of people with mammograms, that's huge."
Sticking with 40, that's the age she recommends women with a normal risk begin yearly mammograms. The process takes about 20 minutes and she says it's relatively painless.
About 10% of cases of breast cancer involve an inherited component. A genetic counselor, like Julie Sawyer, can help identify a family's risk.
"We can actually run calculations that can give us an idea statistically what the chances are they can carry a gene that's changed in such a way that it raises the risk of breast or ovarian cancer in the family," said Sawyer, Miami Valley South.
The gene mutations are called BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. Sawyer says men can also be carriers. So, a father's family is just as important as a mother's when evaluating risk. Women with a mutation have up to an 85% risk of developing breast cancer, says Sawyer. "We talk about all those 'what ifs'," she said. "(We talk about) How a woman will feel in various circumstances and various results so she isn't blindsided, so she has a chance to decide if that's even something she wants to know at this point in her life."
Doctor Roelle says treatment for breast cancer depends on the individual, and she encourages patients to take their time in understanding the diagnosis, "And learn as much about it as you can," she said. "To understand what the disease is, talk with people, and spend some time with your doctors."
A woman can have the lump removed - called a lumpectomy. Or, remove the entire breast - called a mastectomy. Doctor Roelle says the survival benefit is about the same.
"There's a slightly higher chance that a woman who has a lumpectomy with radiation will have a reoccurrence," she said. "Now, it's not zero in women who have a mastectomy either. It's still about 5% as we look many years down the road. Even if you have a mastectomy there's always a chance the cancer could come back."
She says in her practice, she's seeing more women who develop cancer in one breast opting to remove both breasts to reduce their risk of reoccurrence. She says reconstruction is an option for many.
Returning to that comment earlier in the story, about women saving each other. Well, we just may be our best ally in the fight against breast cancer.
"People don't take the time to take care of themselves," said Dr. Braeuning. "Sometimes you need to grab your sister, or your best friend, or your mother and have your mammogram together. That's a fun way to do it because then you don't forget every year, and you have your bosom buddy to do it with you."
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