On a recent episode of Healthful Woman, Dr. Christina Weltz joined the podcast to review the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Weltz is an assistant professor of surgery and surgical oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital who specializes in breast cancer treatment. Listen to that episode on HealthfulWoman.com or continue reading to learn more.
How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
Diagnosis for breast cancer begins with a breast exam, which may either be an at-home self-exam or a clinical breast exam with your OB/GYN or primary care doctor. While these exams are common, Dr. Weltz explains that “doing a clinical breast exam is still, after 20-plus years in practice, the hardest part of my job.” This is because the procedure is sensitive and because it can be difficult to distinguish between normal breast tissue density and something potentially malignant.
If your doctor does detect a lump in your breast, you can then see a breast cancer specialist like Dr. Weltz to determine if the mass is malignant. Dr. Weltz explains that, often, “women will come in your office with a self-detected mass, and it’s incredibly scary. And, of course, their assumption is that it’s probably malignant, and fortunately, it usually is not malignant.” For example, a mass in the breast tissue is often a benign cyst which can easily be removed. Determining the difference between a malignant and benign growth can be achieve through an ultrasound, biopsy, or other testing options.
How is Breast Cancer Treated?
There are several treatment options for breast cancer, and the right plan for each patient will vary depending on the type of cancer they are facing. Common treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy), and hormone therapy.
Dr. Weltz gives the example of treating triple-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer. For these patients, their cancer “does not respond to hormonal influence, in other words, estrogen which in estrogen-positive breast cancer drives the cells to divide and which can be treated and medications that block that. There are no receptors of that nature.” Because their tumors are likely to evolve and metastasize quickly, these patients would be treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Dr. Weltz says that “surgery needs to be done first, it needs to be done right away… triple-negative breast cancer, despite being so aggressive, also responds amazingly well to chemotherapy.” With any tumors removed, chemotherapy will then stop the progression of cancer throughout the body, “not only in the breast but potentially everywhere.”
Is Breast Cancer Curable?
Many patients have serious concerns about breast cancer, primarily because the disease affects many people and awareness is widespread. Breast cancer is “the most common cancer that women get,” Dr. Weltz explains, but “fortunately, it is not the most common cause of cancer deaths.” Breast cancer is curable in many cases, especially when it is detected early. For this reason, it is important to perform self-exams at home according to your doctor’s instructions and remember to see your gynecologist regularly for a well-woman’s visit.
Schedule an Appointment
If you have more questions about breast cancer or need to see a gynecologist for a well-woman’s visit, schedule an appointment at Carnegie Women’s Health in New York City. Call our office at (315) 628-7063 or contact us online.