Each year, more and more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer. In Sampson County alone, more than 65 women are being given the diagnosis and local health care officials are working hard to spread awareness of this disease that many women face.
According to Dr. James Atkins, physician with Southeastern Medical Oncology Center, knowing the facts about breast cancer are vitally important in fighting the battle with the disease. Atkins has been working with breast cancer patients for more than three decades.
There are five stages of breast cancer, with the stage of breast cancer presentation describing the size of a tumor and how much local or distant spread has occurred. In general terms, Stage I is small cancer and usually very treatable. When breast cancer enters Stage II, the cancer is larger. Stage III are cancers with local spreading to the lymph nodes and Stage IV cancer has spread into other organs. Stages IV cancers are terminal and untreatable with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Approximately 80 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are diagnosed with Stage 1 or 2, while only 20 percent are diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4.
“Treatment of breast cancer is complicated and depends on many factors that include the cellular make up of the cancer cells and the staging of the cancer,” Atkins said. “Treatment will most likely include a surgical resection, followed with possible chemotherapy, radiation and anti-estrogen pills.”
Any abnormal growths are referred to has a tumor. Benign tumors are not cancerous, while a malignant tumor is and has the ability to metastasize or travel to other organs in the body and potentially cause organ failure.
Abnormalities in the breast that include a mass, nipple discharge, red skin, change in the skin texture, are signs that need to be addressed promptly. Other warning signs, Atkins explained, include fullness under the arm, which may indicate lymph node spread. Systemic symptoms may include worsening fatigue, weight loss, new pain or possible neurological problems.
“If a new lump is discovered, it’s important to immediately be seen by a doctor,” Atkins said. “A person has to be their own advocate, and if you don’t get what you think you need, refer yourself to another physician.”
According to Atkins, early detection is an important key in women’s breast health.
“Early detection is the best protection,” he attested. “Breast cancer screenings (mammograms) lead to early treatment and increased survival rates.”
Atkins advised that women should receive regular screenings and encouraged all women to not only receive yearly mammograms, but to perform monthly self exams.
“A woman knows her own breast,” Atkins explained. “Performing monthly self exams can help detect lumps when they are smaller. Early detection can make a difference in survival rates.”
Family history plays a large role in women developing breast cancer. Research shows many genetic factors, and Atkins encourages women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to have testing done to determine if other family members are at risk.
“While these are factors that we cannot change, there are other risk factors that we can change,” Atkins said. “For example being overweight, smoking, eating unhealthy… By educating women on breast cancer facts, risks, and screenings, we want to make sure the risk of getting breast cancer is as low as possible.”
According to the oncologist, women should avoid tobacco, alcohol and being obese to help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer. More importantly, he added, women should undergo mammograms annually after the age of 40 and perform monthly self examinations.
“Anytime a woman detects any abnormality in the breast, she needs to address the issue with a physician,” Atkins shared. “Also, women with strong family history need to discuss the matter with their physicians. Lastly, male breast cancer makes up one percent of all breast cancer and males need to be aware that they can also develop such cancer.”
Locally, Atkins said there are many resources to help those who have been diagnosed, including the support given through the community. Additionally, Atkins said this area is very fortunate to have the equipment to diagnose and treat breast cancer.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.