As October races toward November, yet another annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws to a rapid close. Given all the various high-profile fundraising/awareness campaigns and other events across the country each October, many of us may have become complacent when it comes to breast cancer.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped, either. A recent study by the American College of Radiology showed that mammogram screenings were only at 85% of pre-pandemic levels.
Sadly, breast cancer itself won’t end with the end of this month. In fact, it remains the most common form of cancer affecting women in the United States. And men aren’t immune from it, either. Which is why it’s still imperative for everyone, regardless of gender, to stay vigilant when it comes to this life-altering and potentially deadly disease.
Fortunately, several new developments in breast cancer research and treatment options, many of which can be accessed right here at Newport Hospital, are providing us with renewed optimism in this ongoing battle.
A customized, team approach
Just as each person is a unique individual, so, too, is each case of breast cancer. Therefore, Newport Hospital believes that treating breast cancer should likewise be customized, with treatment plans delivered not by one physician, but a team of our world-renowned experts – medical, surgical, and radiation – as well as related support staff.
In what we call our multidisciplinary clinic here at Newport Hospital, after each breast cancer patient is diagnosed, their individual case is promptly discussed and analyzed by our expert team members. Specific recommendations are then made for how best to proceed.
Options could include traditional surgeries and chemotherapy, but also several other less intimidating, though no less effective measures such as:
genetic testing and counseling
nutrition and weight management support.
These various components, whether undertaken separately or in combination, help patients live their healthiest lives, which is certainly beneficial to them overall and particularly during their cancer treatment programs.
Time and again, getting the right treatment plan – right from the get-go – has proven successful for many Newport Hospital patients in both curing their breast cancer and significantly reducing the risks of its reemergence.
And the news gets even better for Southern New Englanders. Because Newport Hospital belongs to the Lifespan family of healthcare providers, patients seeking treatment here can be assured of cutting-edge care, research, and advancements that are overseen by some of the industry’s leading minds and decision-makers, all within our community hospital setting …meaning you don’t have to go far to get the best care in the world.
In addition, many of the more extreme recommendations that your mother or grandmother might once have received may no longer apply to the women of today and tomorrow.
Promising trials and surgical advances
In the late 19th century, the medical world witnessed the first radical mastectomy – removal of the cancer-affected breast, the muscle underneath it, and the lymph nodes in the adjacent armpit. This extreme, aggressive procedure became the standard for the next 100 years.
Yet, the past few decades have seen most of the major advances in breast cancer surgery. “Less is more” has become the dominant theme – provided, of course, that it is done safely, accurately, and in the best interest of a particular patient.
For many, especially those diagnosed early on, partial mastectomy (also called lumpectomy), plus some radiation, followed by what we in the industry call “breast conservation therapy,” is often far more palatable (and again, no less effective) than a complete breast removal. Something else for patients to consider is that removing lymph nodes can be a difficult procedure to tolerate – another important reason to just target the cancer and not the surrounding matter.
Meanwhile, the Lifespan Cancer Institute, in which Newport Hospital plays a significant part, is currently engaged in numerous clinical trials and other new forward-thinking strategies to treat breast cancer.
Medicines, for example, which can be taken orally as opposed to intravenously or in place of chemotherapy; others that are less toxic, producing fewer or less severe side effects. A scalp-cooling treatment called Paxman, designed to prevent hair loss in chemotherapy patients, can be psychologically beneficial and is available right here in Newport.
These potential breakthroughs offer patients more appealing options, more targeted treatments, and more realistic hopes for a less frightening future for women and men alike.
Genetics and celebrities
Actress Angelina Jolie made news a while back when she announced her prophylactic mastectomies – preemptive strikes, if you will – to remove all her breast tissue. Why? Because a genetic test revealed that she had an 87-percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
While Jolie’s case helped shine an enormous spotlight on this effectively women’s health issue, the father of singer/entertainer Beyoncé also drew attention to it not long ago when he revealed his own breast cancer diagnosis.
Even though male breast cancer remains uncommon compared to female cases, treatments are the same across genders. Male cases tend to arise in older men (generally in their 70s) and are typically diagnosed later because most men aren’t necessarily doing precautionary screening on a regular basis. And if they do feel something abnormal in that part of the body, they often assume it’s anything other than breast cancer and tend to ignore it.
Take action today
A relatively simple way for men and women to stay steps ahead of the disease is to undergo genetic and/or genomic testing to help identify those with a higher risk. As many as 20 different genes can be tested for breast cancer potential. Consequently, almost every patient that comes to Newport Hospital is recommended genetic testing, as the outcome can determine how a patient is managed thereafter.
Women specifically, there’s no better time than now – during the waning days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2022 – to get your annual mammogram. It’s recommended once a year for every woman in reasonable health age 40 or above.
For both men and women, if you feel something abnormal, talk to a physician and have it evaluated. If it’s a noticeable change in your condition, you could require more testing than just a mammogram. If you’re not sure, feel free to call the Lifespan Cancer Institute’s main number, 844-222-2881, or visit https://www.lifespan.org/locations/newport-hospital or https://www.lifespan. org/centers-services/breast-cancer-multidisciplinary-clinic.
Whatever you choose to do, please don’t take breast cancer for granted.
Dr. Julia Tassinari is associate director of the Breast Health Multidisciplinary Clinic of the Lifespan Cancer Institute at Newport Hospital and a board-certified general surgeon. Health Matters appears monthly on newportri.com and in The Daily News.