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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 ...

Swedish Digestive Health Network – call 1-855-411-MYGI (6944)

In the fall of 2011, Swedish opened the largest, most advanced endoscopy center in the Pacific Northwest. This state-of-the-art unit serves as the procedural space for a broad range of minimally invasive cases performed by gastroenterologists, colorectal specialists, thoracic and bariatric surgeons and pulmonologists on patients with a broad range of digestive and respiratory diseases.  As we celebrated this accomplishment, we were reminded of the complexity of digestive disease and that many times, patients and possibly even referring physicians aren’t sure of what type of specialist is best suited to a particular digestive problem.

There is nothing more distressing as a health care professional than hearing patient horror stories about trying to access care. A chronic illness can cause depression and discouragement; an acute illness or a cancer diagnosis can overwhelm the patient and the patient’s family with plenty of unknowns. 

To address these challenges, a group of 50+ specialists came together and created the Swedish Digestive Health Network.

The Swedish Digestive Health Network focuses on collaboration to ease the way for ...

Cancer Awareness and Community Events

Nearly every month of the year has been recognized as a cancer-related awareness month. Cancer awareness months provide the perfect opportunity to share information about specific types of cancer in order to increase knowledge about symptoms, screenings and treatment options, to reduce the stigma of cancer, and to help raise funds for cancer research.

Whether you show your support by wearing a cancer awareness color or ribbon, discuss cancer-related information with family members and friends, or attend a community event or fundraiser, your voice counts. We encourage you to help spread the word and express the importance of education, prevention, early detection and treatment:

Neck lump or mass

A palpable neck lump in any patient should raise some concern.  In the case of a pediatric patient, the concern may be less, since reactive and infectious nodes in the neck can be fairly common in children.  When a child has a bad episode of pharyngitis, tonsillitis (sore throat), or even a bad cold, the lymph nodes of the neck may react and become enlarged.  In that type of scenario, your doctor should prescribe appropriate antibiotics to resolve the enlarged lymph nodes and follow up to make sure that the nodes have regressed.

Very few pediatric neck masses will end up being concerning.  Besides infectious neck lymph nodes as stated above, some of the other more common causes of pediatric neck mass are congenital cysts.  However, none of the pediatric neck masses should be ignored.  A neck lump that persists for more than a few days should be looked at by a pediatrician.

In the adult population, a neck mass or lump can be much more concerning.  Essentially when an adult patient presents to us with a neck mass, we have to fine the root cause and basically rule out a tumor.  Of course, infectious lymph nodes do happen in the adult patients as well, but it is less common.  Congenital cysts are also much less common in the adult patient. 

The more common causes of a neck mass in the adult patient are ....

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