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Dr Duncan

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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The diagnosis of breast cancer frequently comes with a huge dollop of emotion. But with greater access to vastly improved screening tools, more women are being diagnosed at an earlier stage, yet thankfully the outcomes for the disease have improved dramatically in recent years. But there is still far more that can be done. The exciting thing is that the dread-filled, emotional “aura” that has so often accompanied the disease, is slowly being blown away by the scientific insights into how breast cancer is triggered and how cancer cells grow.
In past decades the story often went something like this: a woman finds a lump in her breast and goes to her Doctor who examines her to get an impression of the type of lump she has – benign or cancerous. All the time the woman will be scanning the Doctor’s face to try and get some feedback as to how serious the problem is. This search for reassurance is often repeated when the patient is sent for a scan, and then again when referred for a biopsy with the subliminal scream of “is this really cancer?”, “how bad is this?” and “am I going to die?”

The diagnosis of breast cancer in that very recent past, used to be a generic diagnosis. You had a cancer in your breast and it needed to be treated. The standard triple therapy to fight this “cancer” was to remove it surgically, use radiotherapy to the affected area and surrounding glands that drained the tumour, and then use chemotherapy to mop up any cells that may have escaped to distant parts of the body. To some extent, this approach was successful. But we now know far more about the various types of cancer cells themselves and how they will respond to treatment.

What is now becoming more established in the management of breast cancer is to send the malignant cells off for genetic testing to see if the particular cells in that particular tumour will respond to chemotherapy. According to leading oncologists who treat breast cancers, in the past they had to “guesstimate” how a person would respond to chemotherapy and tailor treatment appropriately. As a result many patients received long periods of chemotherapy - with all the associated side effects - which may not in fact have had any real beneficial effect. With our new understanding of what makes these cancer cells “tick”, individualized treatment plans can be formulated for each individual patient.

The skills learned from the genetic insights gained from studying breast cancers, have now been used by scientists for colon and prostate cancer too: so ladies take a bow ladies – you are an inspiration for men once again!

This greater understanding of breast cancer and how best to target treatment has gone some way to de-mystifying the disease: and this means that a woman can get on with her life just as someone with diabetes or blood pressure can. As with these two health issues, there are certain things that each patient can do to maximize their health and reduce the risk of disease recurrence.

Exercise seems to be a key emerging factor in reducing the chances of a breast cancer recurrence. And the sooner you begin the better as not only will it reduce risk, but you’ll find you feel less tired and will probably sleep better too.

If you’ve never been into exercise before, then start with some flexibility exercises - as we get older, being flexible becomes more important to us. Add in some brisk walks and then move into physical activities that you enjoy and can maintain five or six times per week for at least 30 to 60 minutes each session. It’s also good to be involved in some “resistance” work - using appropriate weights to strengthen muscles. If you don’t know what is right for you then get guidance from your treating Doctor and/or an accredited personal trainer.

Exercise is not only good for breast cancer patients, it’s great for everyone. So part of everyone’s future lifestyle programs should include 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least 5 times per week. Being a part of an exercise group will not only help you physically, socially and mentally – it’s a great venue for raising the awareness of breast cancer too.

Whilst exercise has good solid scientific evidence to show its beneficial effects, there is also no doubt that breast cancer patients should never smoke and should avoid alcohol during their recovery period too. Eating a well balanced diet is good for everyone, but there are no proven “super-foods” that will equal what intelligent, well-researched and targeted treatment can do. So eat your broccoli, walnuts and salmon, because they are inherently good for us all, but listen to what the experts tell you first.
 
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: wear a pink ribbon to show that you’re some that cares. 

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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