How surviving cancer can be a battle in itself

How surviving cancer can be a battle in itself

The good news: you have a far better chance of surviving a bout with cancer than you ever had before at any other time in history. And many people have. They announce they’ve been given the all-clear, close friends and family bombard them with congratulations, and everyone else they know gives them a thumbs-up on Facebook. And then…what?

A recent article in The Scotsman – which all of our clients are advised to check out – confirms that post-cancer care is still uncharted territory for the medical profession and a period of physical and mental stress on the patients. Instead of feeling nothing but relief from an all-clear diagnosis, many patients find that the support system they had relied upon has been taken away, they’re not yet physically ready to pick up the threads of their day-to-day life, and the fear that the cancer will return magnifies every new twinge and ache.

The unsurprising upshot of this period is that many patients spiral into anxiety and depression, and there are many reasons for this: as one former patient noted; “My treatment was like having a wee security blanket… once you are discharged you feel like you would be pestering the hospital.”

Having gone through the experience, patients are all too aware of the pressures foisted upon the medical profession and are loathe to add to them. Also, dealing with the feeling – or outright being told by others – that they’ve been ‘lucky’ or ‘strong’ can bring on feelings of guilt.

How to cope in the post-treatment period

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – your GP will want to keep tabs on you in any case, and if they feel your condition requires more specialist care, they’ll do their best to get it for you.

Accept that you’ve gone through a life-changing experience, and take steps to deal with the negative consequences of it. If that involves counselling and anti-depressant medication, so be it – but that’s a decision for you and your GP to make.

Use your cancer experience to help others

If there’s a support group for cancer sufferers in your area, get involved. When you were in their position, wouldn’t you have liked to talk to someone who had come through the other side? More importantly, you’re not alone – there will be scores of people in your area who have gone through what you have, and will know exactly how you’re feeling right about now. Maybe you should talk to each other.

Stay in touch with the people who helped you – no matter how busy they are. Remember, you became a part of their life while they were acting as your support system, and they’d appreciate a reminder that they did something that really helped you when you needed it.

If you’re feeling worried that the cancer may be returning, say something. The worst-case scenario will be that you’ve caught something early and have maximised your chances of a recovery. The other option is that you’ll be told by someone who knows that you’ve got nothing to worry about, and you’ll be given advice on how to check for a relapse.

For more information on how to cope post cancer treatment, please get in touch with our team.

DCIS: It pays to check early and often

DCIS: It pays to check early and often

DCIS: It pays to check early and oftenHere at Thames Breast Clinic, we’ve been keeping tabs on the European Cancer Congress – the annual meeting of cancer care experts from across the continent – because many studies and findings discovered over the year are released there. One that certainly caught our attention was the announcement that women treated for very early signals of DCIS breast cancer are more likely to be still alive a decade later than the rest of the population.

According to the study, which tracked the progress of nearly ten thousand women in the Netherlands who were diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) between 1989 and 2004, the women studied over 50 had their risk of dying reduced by 10% when compared to people of the same age in the general population.

What is DCIS?

Ductal carcinoma in situ is the most typical type of non-invasive breast cancer. ‘Ductal’ refers to the milk ducts, where the cancer first forms, ‘Carcinoma’ refers to to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover or line organs, and ‘In Situ’ means ‘in its place of origin’.

DCIS is not a life-threatening condition, but it is a precursor of breast cancer: contracting DCIS increases the risk of developing an invasive cancer in the breast area in later life, and certain studies put the chances of a reoccurrence at 30%. There has been an increase of DCIS detection over time, but that’s a good thing: it’s an indication that people are living longer, and detection technology is improving.

How is DCIS treated?

The most common procedure for DCIS is lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy although there are other options – including a lumpectomy without radiation therapy and a mastectomy. In certain cases, hormonal therapy after surgery is recommended, in an attempt to block or lower the production of oestrogen.

Why would women with DCIS have higher survival rates?

The people behind the study are claiming no magic theories behind the results: rather, they surmise that the vast majority of people studied had their diagnosis through breast screening, which indicates they have been health-conscious and gotten themselves checked out at regular intervals, and have consequently caught their condition at an early enough stage to have something done about it.

And while specific mortality rates from breast cancer were higher than those among the general population – for obvious reasons – they eventually had a lower risk of dying from other cancers and diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems than the rest of the general population.

So, in short, it pays to keep tabs on the state of your breasts, early and often. While the idea of contracting DCIS is an understandably scary prospect, it’s better to know it’s there and have it treated sooner rather than later.

If you’re unsure about how to check your breasts, or think you may have found something of concern, please contact us.

Mastectomy v lumpectomy - which works best?

Mastectomy v Lumpectomy: which works best?

Mastectomy v lumpectomy - which works best?A recent study from the Netherlands – which claims that women with early stage breast cancer have higher survival rates if they forgo a mastectomy and undergo breast-conserving surgery instead – has attracted a lot of media attention.

The study – which assessed the medical records of 130,000 Dutch breast cancer patients, making it the largest breast cancer survey of its kind – discovered that certain women over 50 and with other health issues increased their survival rates by a third by opting for a non-mastectomy treatment plan.

As Professor Sabine Siesling, the lead author of the study, pointed out; “We believe this information will have potential to greatly improve shared treatment decision-making for future breast cancer patients. However, we would like to emphasise that these results do not mean that mastectomy is a bad choice.”

Here’s a (very) brief guide to the differences in the procedures. Obviously, your consultant or practitioner will be able to give you the full picture, but here’s what you need to know for now:

What, in laypersons’ term, are they?

Simply put, a mastectomy is a complete removal of the breast, while a lumpectomy involves a partial removal of breast tissue – specifically the cancerous tumour and some of the unaffected tissue around it. This is then followed by a programme of radiation therapy. This usually involves five days of treatment per week, for a period of five to seven weeks, in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of the cancer returning.

What are the advantages of a lumpectomy over a mastectomy?

As it is a less invasive surgical procedure than a mastectomy, much of the appearance and sensation of the breast can be preserved. Also, the recovery time will be shorter and easier. And if you choose to opt for reconstructive surgery, it goes without saying that the procedure will be quicker and less extensive than it would be for a mastectomy patient.

And the disadvantages?

Two words: radiation therapy. Not only will you have to undergo an extensive stint of treatment, it can also leave your breast feeling much firmer and more tender. Furthermore, there could be the possibility of further surgery down the line, as the pathology report on the affected breast takes 4 or 5 days to be conducted – and if cancer cells are still present in the breast, another procedure will be required. Finally, there is no guarantee that a lumpectomy will rid the breast of cancer for good: if the cancer returns, a mastectomy procedure is recommended.

What are the advantages of a mastectomy over a lumpectomy?

Some women are more inclined to undertake a full mastectomy as a piece-of-mind procedure: when the breast is gone, the possibility of the cancer returning in the breast is almost gone too. Also, opting for a mastectomy can, in many instances, eliminate the need for radiation therapy – although it may still be needed depending on pathology results.

And the disadvantages?

Mastectomy surgery is a longer and more extensive procedure than lumpectomy, with a higher chance of post-surgical side-effects and a longer recuperation time. Obviously, due to the breast being completely removed, there could be additional and more extensive surgeries to reconstruct the breast, should you decide to take that route.

Which treatment is right for me?

As with most breast cancer issues, it’s the call of the person affected with breast cancer. It’s a completely natural reaction to want to preserve as much of your breast as possible, no matter how old you are, but your surgeon will want to give you the best chance possible for a full recovery.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact us to make an appointment.

Why emotional support is essential during breast cancer

Why emotional support is essential during breast cancer

Why emotional support is essential during breast cancerTwo recent news stories from very diverse sources – one from a medical magazine in America and one from a railway toilet in Leeds – have underlined something we’ve been aware of for a very long time: when you get into a fight with breast cancer, you need your mates to back you up.

According to a report published by Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, lonely women who have survived breast cancer are 60% more likely to die of a reoccurrence of cancer than women who are more socially active – and socially isolated women have a 40% greater chance of the condition returning.

Breast cancer survival: stay social, stay healthy

The study, involving nearly 10,000 women for an average of ten and a half years after their diagnosis, found that there were 1,448 reoccurrences of cancer and 1,521 deaths – 990 of which were caused by breast cancer. And those with ‘stagnant social lives’ were at a far greater risk.

By ‘stagnant social lives’, they don’t necessarily mean ‘lonely’: women in long-term live-in relationships were just as likely to be placed in that particular bracket as single women. What they were referring to were women with a low level of close friends and participation in community activities. Simply put: there may be something in the idea that when you’ve put more effort into your social network, you’ve got more reasons to stay alive.

This study has led experts to push doctors to take a patient’s social situation into account when judging their prognosis. As Dr Candyce Kroenke from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California pointed out; “(these findings) confirm the generally beneficial influence of women’s social ties on breast cancer recurrence and mortality. However, they also point to complexity, that not all social ties are beneficial and not in all women.”

The writing on the wall

Of course, the idea that emotional support during cancer can be just as important as medical support is not a new one – as one of the UK’s biggest charities has pointed out, and a recent news story from Leeds bears out. A cancer support poster in a railway toilet that was put up five years ago has been gradually covered with messages of support from women to other women to get checked out and stay strong – and the railway company have decided to keep it where it was years after it was due to be taken down.

And the even better news is that the woman in the poster – who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy in 2004 – is still alive to comment on it. As she said to the BBC; “If we can all support each other, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Why do women like Angelina choose to undergo a double mastectomy?

The double mastectomy: an FAQ

Why do women like Angelina choose to undergo a double mastectomy?This recent news report – which claims that the rate of women opting to undergo a double mastectomy has soared in recent years – is an excellent excuse to talk about CPM – contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, or more accurately, risk reducing mastectomy (RRM)

While it can be a necessary procedure when cancer has spread to both breasts, a lot of women choose to have both breasts removed when cancer has been detected in one as a preventative measure. And certain women choose to undergo a double mastectomy when there are no indications of cancer in either breast, to ensure they never suffer from breast cancer in later life.

Why would someone without cancer decide to have a double mastectomy?

There are many reasons, but the main ones are:

There’s a history of cancer in the family: As we know, women with relatives who developed breast or ovarian cancer before the age of 50 are more likely to develop breast cancer themselves. That’s the reason why Angelina Jolie chose to undergo the procedure in 2013. As she wrote in an article in the New York Times; “My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer…once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and minimise the risk as much as I could.”

BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation fears: BRCA1 and 2 are genes that produce proteins which help in the repair of damaged DNA and stabilise the genetic material in a cell. When they mutate, the production of proteins cease and the cells become more susceptible to genetic alterations that could lead to the development of cancer. According to scientific data, BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutations ramp up the risk of cancer considerably: approximately 55-80% of women with BRCA1 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 70, while 45% of women with BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 70. A DNA test can determine whether BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation is present in the body.

There’s already been a case of LCIS: Lobular carcinoma in situ is found in the in the glands that produce breast milk. It’s not a cancer as such, but it can be an early signifier for breast cancer. According to recent studies, between 20-40% of women with LCIS will develop a separate invasive breast cancer.

How effective is a double mastectomy?

Very effective – but it’s worth bearing in mind that the term ‘breast cancer’ can be a misnomer, as breast tissue is also located in the armpits and above the collarbone. However, the vast majority of breast cancer occurs in the breast area, and it is estimated that double mastectomy procedures have a 95% reduction rate for breast cancer.

What are the side effects of a double mastectomy?

There will be a one to two week recovery period. As with all invasive procedures, there is a small risk of infection and the tissue failing to heal, requiring further surgery. Just as important is the risk of emotional side-effects linked to body image and self-esteem due to undergoing such a procedure.

Is it possible to have a breast reconstruction procedure?

Yes – and in many cases, some women choose to have both procedures done at the same time. This is something that Thames Breast Clinic specialises in.

Is having a double mastectomy when I don’t have breast cancer the right thing to do?

That’s a question that only you can answer. Our advice is to consult a breast specialist, check your family history, and talk it over with friends and family.

New research highlights importance of breast cancer symptom awareness

Research presented at the recent cancer conference held in Liverpool highlighted the importance of raising awareness of other breast cancer symptoms, particularly as women with other symptoms to a lump are not seeking help as quickly as those women who present with a breast lump.

Other breast cancer symptoms to be aware of include:

  • nipple abnormalities
  • pain in the breast and/or nipple
  • skin changes
  • shape abnormalities
  • infection in the breast
  • breast inflammation
  • swollen arm or armpit

 

 

New research finds genetic link to breast cancer survival

Scientific researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have discovered that activity in two specific genes could help identify women who have an increased risk of dying from breast cancer. This research could be used in testing for aggressive breast cancer.

 

Looking at the link between breast cancer and alcohol

As Cancer Research UK launches its Dryathlon this September to encourage us to give us drinking for a month, we take a look at the link between breast cancer and alcohol.

Black women ‘twice as likely’ to have advanced breast cancer

A new analysis of breast cancer statistics, performed by the charity Cancer Research UK and Public Health England, has found that late-stage breast cancer is found in about 25% of black African patients, in comparison to 13% of white patients. There are a number of reasons for these statistics and they highlight the importance of having a breast cancer check when invited to and also the need for more information on symptoms.