Guest Blogger and Physician Assistant Patient Navigator, Tracy Ann Kuck, MS, PAC, grew up in Mamaroneck, New York. She attended Colgate University for her undergraduate studies, and received a Masters of Science in Applied Anatomy and Physiology from Boston University. She completed her PA training at Yale University through the Physician Associate Program. She has been in the Boston area for over 25 years, and spent 20 years as a Surgical Physician Assistant at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, MA.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We have much to celebrate since there has been a significant improvement in the cure rate for breast cancer.
In the 1970’s only 75% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer survived. Today, the National Institutes of Health quote a 90% survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer. There are two main reasons for this exciting trend. First of all, newer treatments today are better able to target breast cancer. Secondly, improved mammogram imaging technology detects breast cancer earlier than ever before.
The Breast Care Team at Milford Regional Medical Center is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). It combines the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of doctors. This team is composed of breast surgeons, plastic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, and pathologists. They all contribute to an individualized treatment plan focused on the elimination of cancer from the breast.
Breast cancer surgery has become much less invasive. For the majority of breast cancers a small excision of breast tissue and the removal of one or two lymph nodes from under the arm can be all a patient requires. If a more extensive excision is needed the plastic surgeons are well versed in the most up to date techniques. State of the art nipple sparing and skin sparing mastectomy with reconstruction preserves the natural appearance of the breast.
After a surgical excision radiation oncologists can use radiation to “sterilize” the tumor bed by destroying the growth of any residual tumor cells. This is usually a short course of radiation therapy. It has been shown to contribute to the increase in cure rate by preventing local recurrence.
Medical oncologists have the availability of a variety of targeted treatments including hormonal therapies. Drugs have been developed that take advantage of specific cancer cell vulnerability. And, with the ability to pin point cancer cells directly there are fewer side effects. These treatments are constantly being studied, modified, and improved. Gene technology can now identify patients at risk of breast cancer as well as determine whether a patient will benefit from chemotherapy. Furthermore, breast cancer vaccines are being investigated with the hope to someday be able to prevent breast cancer.
The recent addition of 3D mammography, also called Digital Breast Tomosynthesis or Tomo (for short), has significantly increased the resolution of mammogram images. This is especially important when evaluating patients with dense breast tissue. 3D mammography accurately identifies small abnormalities and provides early detection of breast disease when it can be more easily eradicated. Tomo also reduces the need to call patients back for additional imaging because the images are so clear.
Tremendous advancement in both surgical and medical treatment has improved the outcome of patients diagnosed with breast cancer. Also, since breast cancer is more treatable when detected in its early stages patients can actually increase the breast cancer cure rate by completing routine screening.
For that reason ladies, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, let’s all make sure we are up to date on our routine screening. If you are due for a mammogram it is a great time to come visit the Breast Center!