The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes in the United States, however, the outlook for patients diagnosed with breast cancer has been changing for the better over time, thanks to advances in research, targeted therapies, and a more personalized approach to treating women diagnosed with breast cancer. There are more options for breast cancer patients now than ever before. Lindsay Potdevin, MD, surgical oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, an RWJ Barnabas Health facility, shares more about these advances that have made a notable impact on the lives of breast cancer patients.
There are many changes in the way that surgeons approach breast cancer removal that have evolved over the past 10 to 20 years, which involve surgical techniques such as lumpectomies that hide scars, nipple-sparing mastectomies, reconstruction, and in some cases—no surgery at all. Surgeons, once solely interested in the removal of the primary tumor, are now incorporating techniques to precisely remove all cancerous cells while preserving healthy breast tissue, skin and nipples, giving patients the option receive their desired cosmetic outcome.
Over time, breast cancer treatment has greatly improved due to findings from clinical trials, which are research studies in which people agree to try new therapies in order to help physicians and researchers identify the best treatments with the fewest side effects. Whether a new therapy or test becomes part of standard treatment for breast cancer depends largely on findings from clinical trials. Patients can explore with their physicians if a clinical trial is right for them depending on their individual needs.
Personalized treatment approach
Breast cancer treatment typically involves some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, although not all women need all three. Best practices have shifted to a more personalized management of the breast cancer patient. Physicians will consider factors such as the size of the breast, the size and type of the tumor, the cosmetic impact of different treatments, and each patient’s personal concerns and goals.
What you eat affects your weight, and obesity raises your odds for breast cancer. If you’ve already had the disease, extra pounds can also make it more likely to return. If you choose a healthy diet — one rich in vegetables, whole grains, chicken, and fish — you may boost your chances of living longer after having cancer. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why that’s true, but the long-term benefits aren’t in doubt. Soy-based foods — such as tofu, soy milk, and edamame — have chemicals called phytoestrogens, which are similar to estrogen. That once raised fears that they spelled trouble for women with cancer that uses estrogen as fuel to grow. But the latest studies show soy doesn’t raise cancer risk — it may even lower the odds the disease will return.
One highly publicized French study found a link between organic food products and a lower cancer risk. But the issue is far from settled. The most important thing, scientists agree, is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and to wash them carefully to remove the residue of any chemicals.
A good attitude can help you better manage your cancer and its treatments. It can also improve your quality of life. Talk to a mental health specialist, others with cancer, or anyone who can offer support. Take joy in your loved ones and the little things in life.
Dr. Potdevin sees patients at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.
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