Breast Cancer Survival—How Far We Have Come
The National Football League teams are wearing pink shoes and gloves, PGA golfers are swinging pink golf clubs and everyone is wearing pink ribbons. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. How far we have come! Breast cancer used to be a taboo subject with women often presenting late with incurable disease. Today, there are close to 4 million women living as breast cancer survivors. This represents an amazing success in our fight with breast cancer. The explosion of breast cancer survivorship programs is a testament to how successful our war on cancer has been.
During my 35 years diagnosing and treating patients with breast cancer I’ve had the privilege to witness amazing progress. Today with informed patients getting screening mammograms, most new cancers diagnosed are too small to even feel. Early diagnosis combined with modern treatment has resulted in more lives saved, more breasts saved and a better quality of life for the millions of breast cancer survivors.
We are getting more for less. Breast surgery has gone from a radical mastectomy to breast conservation. Extensive axillary lymph node dissections are being replaced with limited lymph node biopsies. Radiation therapy is safer and soon to be shorter with more effective modern targeting, dosing and delivery techniques. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and the incredibly promising future of targeted molecular therapy are changing what used to be a death sentence into a chronic condition with more women cured of their disease than ever before. This success story is not from the discovery of a single magic cancer bullet. Rather, we have seen lots of small discoveries that alone don’t seem like much, but combined have nearly doubled the cure rate of breast cancer during my career.
Comprehensive Breast Care Programs like the one at BMH help assure the quality of our diagnosis and treatment of breast disease. Integrated programs allow for speedy communication of care between the many disciplines required to successfully treat breast cancer. For the nearly 4 million women now living as breast cancer survivors, the BMH breast survivorship program takes a holistic approach to patient care, providing nutrition counseling and fitness classes. Identifying women at high risk, which includes genetic evaluation and counseling, is allowing us to provide customized screening and cancer prevention treatment for women who have an elevated risk of getting breast cancer.
We’ve come a long way from the days when women were afraid to tell their family or doctors they were feeling a new lump in their breast, knowing it would only result in mutilating surgery and probably death. Much of our success is due to the strong support of a caring public. As we celebrate October as Breast Cancer Awareness month, we should not forget for our breast cancer patients and health care providers, every day is breast cancer awareness. It is only with the public’s ongoing support will we continue to see such amazing progress and one day eliminate the fear of breast cancer for all.
Dr. Joseph Rosen is Medical Director of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Breast Care Program and is a staff surgeon at BMH. He has been an active member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons since 1998. For questions about mammograms, finding a doctor or financial assistance, please contact BMH Breast Care Program Administrator and Nurse Navigator Kelly McCue at 802-251-8437 or Dr. Rosen at 802-257-3751.