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Breast cancer awareness is about information, not a color

In recent years, the colors of October seem to have changed from red, orange, and gold to pink, pink and more pink. I have always loved pink, well before becoming a breast cancer surgeon, but like many of us, I find the pink of October overwhelming, especially at this point in the month.

I appreciate and endorse the continued focus on breast cancer, but often the important information is drowned out by the rah-rah-rah of the awareness campaigns. Many women (and men) are “aware” of breast cancer, but never truly become aware of what it really is, what it really means, until they find themselves dealing with the cold terror of a palpable mass or a call-back after mammogram. They need information, not just pink blenders. 

Breast cancer is ...

Cancer control and survivorship

I recently attended the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) meeting, a consortium of research institutions doing clinical trials on cancer. The conference highlighted how new research will remarkably affect cancer survivorship, quality of life (QOL), integrative care and our ability to predict and provide needed services more accurately and with greater cost effectiveness for cancer survivors. The tools for implementing cancer control are evolving quickly.

Here are some highlights from the meeting:

  • Biomarkers, which are any human characteristics that are measurable including everything from gene expression (or over-expression) to pain surveys, can potentially predict long term survival as well as the specific services that will most benefit patients.
  • Symptoms that are increasingly predictable by biomarker assays include fatigue, insomnia, pain, anorexia, nausea, depression and others. This means that we will soon be able to better predict the patients who will be affected by these problems and deliver interventions much earlier and more effectively.
  • Patient satisfaction is frequently not related to treatment outcome. Factors such as QOL and survivorship are important.
  • Lung cancer patients suffer inordinately high, long-term QOL deficits. Many of these respond well to interventions but interventions are frequently not provided to patients with lung cancer.
  • Symptom clusters ...

Breast cancer awareness: What's good for our breasts is good for the rest

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sports teams are wearing pink, survivors are telling their stories, and pink ribbons are everywhere. Women battling the disease and people who care for them are educating others about the importance of early detection. People who may never have been personally touched by breast cancer are showing their support by volunteering, raising funds for research and getting involved in other ways. It is a world of PINK! And that’s a good thing.

But……sometimes it feels like we spend so much time talking about breast cancer we forget to talk about our general health. Breasts are important, but so is the rest! There are things you can do to both decrease your risk of breast cancer and improve your health overall:

  • Get moving! You don’t have to run marathons. Even moderate walking 30 min, 4-5 days a week is beneficial. Adding resistance or weight training is ideal. Life is busy, but if you look you will find ways to fit exercise into your daily routine. You’ll be decreasing cancer risk and preventing osteoporosis. Plus, inactive women have more heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and depression than active woman.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. It can make a big difference - especially avoiding weight gain after menopause. Keeping your body mass index (BMI) <25 is ideal. (Click here for a tool to help calculate your BMI). Gaining even 20lbs during the course of adulthood has been shown to increase risk of breast cancer for some women.

  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in:

Tips for reducing hot flashes for women with breast cancer

Hot flashes are the most common complaint from women going through menopause. And for women who are breast cancer patients, the problem is often more acute. Surgery, chemotherapy and estrogen blocking medications can bring on hot flashes or make them worse if you already have them. And for women who must discontinue hormone replacement therapy, the instant onset of hot flashes and night sweats can severely impact quality of life.

Fortunately, there are several strategies you can easily and safely employ to decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes and night sweats. Everything I recommend here is non-estrogenic so while it is generally safe for breast cancer patients and survivors, you should always check with your oncologist before trying any new supplement.

First, a few notes on diet. I recently had a patient who stopped eating refined sugars for general health reasons, and her hot flashes nearly disappeared. Your mileage may vary on this one but there are clear health benefits from lowering sugar intake, so it may be worth a try. You might also try ...

Oncology social workers help patients with cancer

“What happens if my insurance won’t pay for all of this treatment?”
“How do I tell my young daughter about my cancer?”
“My spouse is really struggling, but I don’t know how to help him.” 
“How will I get to radiation every day if I can’t drive?”
“My friends and family call a lot, but I don’t feel like talking to them”
“I’m scared.”   “I’m angry”   “I’m sad”    “I’m confused”
“What’s a power of attorney…and do I need one?”
“Where can I find out about a support group? ”
“I wish I knew where to turn.”

If you are faced with a diagnosis of cancer, you may be asking similar questions and wondering where to turn for answers.  A good place to start is with an oncology social worker.  Oncology social workers assist with the non-medical issues that often arise when someone is diagnosed with cancer.  We have master’s degrees in social work, and are specially trained to provide counseling and assistance with services that can reduce stress for you and your family through all phases of your cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Social work services are available at the Swedish Cancer Institute at our First Hill, Edmonds, and Issaquah campuses, and are provided at no cost to our patients. 

We can help you:

Thrive Through Cancer Presents Chemo-Con at Swedish Cancer Institute

Thrive Through Cancer is a non-profit organization that helps young adults with cancer and their caregivers find hope and thrive. Through support groups, social events and community forums, Thrive Through Cancer aims to engage young adult community members by providing support and resources during their fight against cancer.

On June 20, 2013 Thrive Through Cancer will host a social event for young adults, their families, friends and caregivers at the Swedish Cancer Institute: Chemo-Con!

Come meet Rose Egge, founder of Thrive Through Cancer, and join us for two educational and interactive workshops focused on issues commonly experienced by young adults affected by cancer.

  • Join Registered Dietician Julie Herbst for a conversation about healthy eating, maximizing nutritional intake and managing symptoms with foods. Recipe and sampling provided.
  • Jacci Thompson-Dodd, MA, MSSS will host a discussion about intimacy and cancer, and can help answer any questions you may have. 

You will also have the opportunity to learn more about community partners, resources and services available in areas near you from the following organizations:

BRCA Genetic Testing for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer

In today’s New York Times, actress and director Angelina Jolie bravely and openly discusses her experience with BRCA genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer:

The 37 year old Ms. Jolie – who has not had cancer – underwent genetic testing because of her family history of cancer. She was found to carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which puts her at significant risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Ms. Jolie, the mother of 3 adopted and 3 biological children, elected to undergo a risk-reducing double mastectomy, and plans to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed soon to lower her risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Ms. Jolie’s story opens a public conversation about the importance of genetic testing in helping to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. This very personal decision about mastectomy by someone widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the movies also helps women recognize that their body image and sexuality does not have to be defined by their breasts. Not every woman will make the decision to have major surgery, but genetic test results can also make sure that your breast cancer screening is appropriate for your level of risk; women who carry a BRCA gene mutation need ...

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