With Breast Cancer Awareness Month upon us, it’s as important as ever to ensure you have the latest breast cancer facts. Take this short quiz to boost your knowledge of triple negative breast cancer — one of the disease’s rarest and deadliest forms.
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Women are constantly bombarded on what they can do to prevent breast cancer. However, there is no definitive known way to prevent the disease. One in eight women in the United States will develop some form of breast cancer.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to several medical experts to address a few common breast cancer myths.
Myth: Mammograms cause breast cancer
Fact: Annual screenings are the key to finding breast cancer early. A mammogram is currently the best screening tool for finding breast cancer. It uses extremely low levels of radiation to create detailed images of the breast.
On average, the total dose for a typical mammogram is about 0.4 mSv. People are normally exposed to an average of about 3 mSv of radiation each year from their natural surroundings. The dose of radiation from a mammogram is about the same amount of radiation averaged from natural surroundings over about 7 weeks.
The Mammography Quality Standards Act was created by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and passed by Congress to mandate rigorous guidelines for x-ray safety during mammography. The MQSA guidelines assure that mammography systems are safe and use the lowest dose of radiation possible. Patients should make sure they are being imaged at an ACR-accredited facility.
Dr. Correna Terrell, medical director of the breast imaging center at Houston Methodist West Hospital, recommends that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual mammograms at age 40. If you have additional risk factors, your physician may recommend mammograms beginning at an earlier age.
Myth: Sugar feeds cancer
Fact: Sugar does not spread cancer. However, if you have too much sugar in your diet, specifically simple sugars found in baked goods, this can cause weight gain. Weight gain overtime can lead to obesity and obesity has been linked to an increase risk of several cancers.
“Our bodies do need simple sugar, for energy,” says Renee Stubbins, registered dietician at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center. “The average American consumes over 130 pounds of sugar per year, or an extra 500 calories per day. The key to any healthy balanced diet is moderation,” Stubbins said.
Natural occurring sugars like those found in fruit, vegetables and whole grain are all needed to help maintain muscle and weight during cancer treatment and have been shown to help fight cancer. Avoiding processed sugars that are found in cakes, baked goods and desserts and sticking with fruits and vegetables helps maintain a healthy weight and prevents health issues in the future.
Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous
Fact: In general, 80 percent of lumps are caused by non-cancerous changes in the breast. This percentage tends to fluctuate with age. As a woman ages, her risk of breast cancer increases. While the percentage of benign breast lumps in older women may be much lower than in younger women, it is still important for women to report breast abnormality to their physician. Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored.
Join us Saturday, May 2, 2015 at the Rice University Tudor Fieldhouse for a morning to kick-start a healthier lifestyle. Special guest, Ilona Carson of ABC-13, will be emceeing. Registrants will get the opportunity to learn healthy tips from primary care physicians, OB-GYN’s, breast care and health experts. The morning will also include a yoga session, menu ideas and giveaways.
For a woman living a healthy lifestyle, Alma Delia Sanchez, a resident of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, was shocked to discover a lump on her breast was later diagnosed as triple negative breast cancer. With little information on breast cancer for young women in Mexico, Sanchez immediately took to the internet. She and her husband found Dr. Angel Rodriguez, a breast medical oncologist who specializes in triple negative at Houston Methodist Hospital.
“Love heals; surround yourself with people who love you or can give you lots of love, support and empathy during your journey,” Sanchez said. “Live fearlessly; fear is one of the lowest vibrations we can have.”
I spoke with Sanchez about her journey, inspiration and ways to motivate yourself when battling with cancer.
Q. Before being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, had you ever heard of this type of cancer?
No, I had never heard of triple negative breast cancer before. My cousin passed away from triple negative but it was never mentioned the type of breast cancer, only that it was a very aggressive type. Living in Mexico, there are many campaigns that promote self-breast exams, specifically in October. However, these campaigns are usually targeted at women over the age of 40 and the words triple negative are never mentioned. Triple negative does not depend on estrogen, progesterone or the HER2 to fuel it and grow.
Q. The word cancer can be daunting. How did you cope when you heard the news?
I first heard the news with my husband and my initial reaction was this could not be true. I told my husband the results had to be wrong. When the doctor explained my diagnosis in detail it all started to sink in. I was shocked that at my age and with my healthy lifestyle, I had cancer. I was able to find a great breast oncologist, surgeon and plastic surgeon in Houston that I felt safe and in great hands.
Q. Living such a healthy lifestyle, did you ever imagine being diagnosed with breast cancer?
No, even though there is a history of breast and ovarian cancer on my mother’s side of the family, I thought my great habits would save me. I have been a vegetarian since middle school and have exercised all my life, alternating between weight training, swimming and yoga. I have never smoked and very rarely have consumed alcohol. I always assumed my healthy habits would be my passport to good health and a long, happy life.
Q. Once you learned a little more about triple negative, what went through your head?
I was very scared at first. I googled triple negative breast cancer and everything that came up mentioned the words “really aggressive,” “deadly type of breast cancer,” “metastasis” and “doctors don’t know what fuels the cancer.” Sitting in front of my laptop crying, I couldn’t help but think about how much life I had left to live and how my baby girl still needed me.
Q. Walk us through your journey once being diagnosed.
Five days after my lumpectomy of what my doctor thought was a benign cyst, I received the lab results that said it was cancer. A week after hearing the news my husband and I flew to Houston in search for Dr. Angel Rodriguez. After visiting with the surgical oncologist, the recommendation was for me to get a double mastectomy.
There were some problems with the insurance company and I decided to undergo a left nipple sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction with a tissue expander. My diagnosis after the mastectomy was stage 2A, high grade, triple negative breast cancer with no lymph node involvement. I decided to return home to Mexico to start chemotherapy following the exact treatment that was suggested at Houston Methodist.
My hair started to fall out and I turned into this bald and chubby person that I just could not recognize in the mirror. I knew my life was at stake, but I asked why me? The first chemotherapy treatments were very hard. I had a dream one night. God said love could heal all and me. I am certain now that in our darkest moments we are never alone.
After completing my eight rounds of chemo, I was able to undergo surgery and the reconstruction. While it seems like I am about to finish my journey, it feels more like a new beginning.
Q. What would you say to women today who have recently been diagnosed or going through treatment?
The first thing I would say to someone who was recently diagnosed, get in touch with your emotions. Take time to feel sad, get angry and cry.
Once getting over the initial shock, surround yourself with loving and positive people. Be kind to yourself. If they are currently undergoing treatment, I know it is not a walk in the park. Rest and try to meditate as often as you can. Write about your experience, share your journey, talk to other breast cancer patients and know this too shall pass. Make it a mission to make it a healing journey for the body and soul. Get informed about the options you have for treatment. Choose a team of physicians you trust and form a relationship with them.
Finally, whatever path you choose, feel at peace with that decision.
Sanchez continues to reach out to the cancer patient community to motivate and inspire to be brave, help others understand that suffering is not necessary to grow and help women realize life is so beautiful that it is all worth it.