LIVESTRONG™ at the Y

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities and health systems to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells become abnormal and form more cells in an uncontrolled way. The cancer begins in the tissue that makes up the breast and the cancer cells may form a mass called a tumor; however, not all tumors are cancerous. The most common types of cancer are ductal and lobular. Ductal carcinoma is cancer that begins in the ducts and grows into surrounding tissues.  About 80 percent of all breast cancers are this type. Lobular carcinoma is cancer that begins in lobules and grows into surrounding tissues.

Men and women should know what their breasts normally look and feel like so they can report any unusual changes to their doctor. Breast cancer symptoms include: a lump in or near your breast or under your arm; thick or firm tissue in or near your breast or under your arm; a change in the size or shape or your breast; nipple discharge (not breast milk); nipple changes, such as nipple inversion; and/or changes to your breast skin.

Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, as exercise boosts the immune system and helps keep people at a healthy weight.  Thirty minutes of exercise per day can begin to lower risk of breast cancer. A nutritious, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can also help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. High-fat diets increase risk because fat triggers estrogen production which can fuel tumor growth. Recent research has also confirmed that smoking is a contributor for developing breast cancer, as is secondhand smoke.  Stress can also play a role in developing some cancers.  In 2012, research studies showed that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter a person’s immune system functions, and when immune systems are altered, cancer cells may have a greater opportunity to get establish themselves in the body. The research also showed that how a person handles the stress can also play a role.

The American College of Radiology recommends women receive a baseline mammogram at the age of 40 and continue to do so every year as long as they are in good health. Breast cancer screening looks for signs of cancer before the symptoms begin. Screening can help with early detection, when the change for successful treatment is best. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. A clinical breast exam is when the doctor looks at and feels the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual. These are typically done when a women receives her annual exam.

Current treatment options for breast cancer vary depending on the stage of the cancer, the size of the tumor, type of breast cancer you have, whether or not you have reached menopause, and a person’s general health.  Surgery is the most common treatment, as the goal of surgery is to remove all cancer from the breast. Some women will need to undergo a lumpectomy, in which only the cancer is removed, not the breast. Others will have to undergo a mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed. Other forms of treatments typically combined with surgery include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. 

Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh now offers Breast tomosynthesis or 3D mammography which is a computerized imaging technology that can be added to traditional digital mammography. It creates image slices of the breast. The use of tomosynthesis helps the radiologist resolve the difficulty of detecting small, early malignancies in the more dense, more complex breast, particularly in younger patients. In addition, the use of tomosynthesis has shown to decrease the call-back of patients for questionable findings in such breasts seen on screening exams.

If you or someone you know has just finished treatments for breast cancer, the LIVESTRONG™ program at the YMCA is an excellent resource. LIVESTRONG™ at the YMCA is a twelve-week, small group program designed specifically for adult cancer survivors. The program fulfills the need of supporting cancer survivors who find themselves in the transition between cancer treatment and feeling physically and emotionally strong enough to return to their normal life or their “new normal”. The program is conducted at the YMCA to emphasize that LIVESTRONG™ is about health, not disease. For more information about the LIVESTRONG™ at the YMCA program, call the Oshkosh YMCA or visit the Livestrong website at www.livestrong.org.