The diagnosis makes knees buckle and brings tears to the eyes, but it is by no means a death sentence. A range of treatments, along with social support, help millions of women, as well as some men, come through the experience as strong survivors. With breast cancer death rates dropping over the last 25 years, about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors live in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
That said, the best weapon against breast cancer is early detection. In fact, the five-year relative survival rates for patients who catch an abnormality at the earliest stages is 100 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Medical professionals encourage people to create and follow an early detection plan, setting a schedule to do regular breast self-exams and get clinical exams and mammograms on a schedule appropriate for your age and health history.
“The progress we have made in the last decade in breast cancer is incredible,” said Alison Conlin, M.D., breast cancer medical oncologist and researcher at Providence Cancer Center. “We now can cure more women than ever.”
Conducting a self-exam
The first line of defense against breast cancer is a self-exam in which you examine your breasts for changes. These may include a change in shape, dimpling, tenderness, the appearance of a lump or discharge from the nipple.
If these conditions appear, they do not necessarily signal the onset of breast cancer. But you should talk with your health care provider right away to discuss the changes you’ve noticed.
Providence offers many ways to help you assess and manage your breast health. These include breast care clinics in Portland, breast imaging services around the region, an online library and cancer support services.
Providence also offers a breast cancer outreach program through Providence Cancer Center. The program provides women and their families with support services, from comfort pillows to connections to cancer support groups, at no cost.
Providence also offers care for women who can’t afford it through the Oregon Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which is funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure Oregon and its southwest Washington affiliate and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about the program, call the toll-free hotline at 877-255-7070.