What can you do today to help lower your risk for breast cancer? What can you do to make those chemotherapy visits less stressful? Is surgery the right option? In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tara M. Breslin, MD, FACS, director of the Comprehensive Breast Program at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston, addresses important questions about breast health, reducing your risk of breast cancer, and navigating cancer treatment in this helpful Q&A. Her answers were recently featured in a Sharecare article about boosting breast health.
1. What’s one thing readers can do to improve their breast health today?
Readers should become informed about their personal risk for breast cancer by discussing their family history with their primary care provider or at the time of their routine screening mammogram.
2. What do you wish more patients knew before starting chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is an important part of breast cancer treatment for some, but not all, women with breast cancer. The side effects are preventable and treatable in most instances. Patients should take the time to learn about the treatment and be proactive with their providers about managing side effects and symptoms.
3. What are some things people can start doing today to lower their risk of cancer?
After learning about breast cancer risk, they should determine an appropriate screening program with their primary care provider. Women should exercise regularly and eat a healthy, low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This lifestyle promotes heart health and reduces breast cancer risk.
4. What are some things people can do to make chemotherapy infusion days less stressful and intimidating?
- Bring a friend for the first treatment.
- Bring something to do such as a book to read, a portable hobby, crossword puzzles.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Get to know the people in the waiting room. Many people undergo chemotherapy on a regular schedule and can become an important source of social support for each other.
5. What’s one unexpected habit you wish your patients would drop?
Tobacco cessation is an important part of improving outcome after a breast cancer diagnosis. Many doctors and nurses are hesitant to discuss the negative effects of tobacco on overall health and cancer outcomes with patients who already have a diagnosis of breast cancer, but this is an important part of their overall health care and oncology care.
6. What’s the most common question your patients ask you?
“Is this cancer going to kill me?” The truth is, most breast cancer in the United States is diagnosed with screening mammography at an early stage when it is very treatable. Five-year survival is excellent for women who are diagnosed and treated early
7. What’s the most common myth or misconception that you regularly have to debunk among your patients?
Many women think that more aggressive surgery will translate into improved survival. The truth is that for appropriately selected women, survival after breast conserving surgery is equivalent to survival after mastectomy.
8. What do you do to stay healthy?
Regular exercise, healthy diet, and I spent time with my family and my horse.
9. How do you fit in time for exercise every day?
I exercise on the way home from work or while waiting for my kids to finish their athletic practices.
10. What’s the biggest mistake you see your patients make?
Rushing into treatment can lead to regret about treatment decisions. Most breast cancers grow very slowly, and there is time to learn about treatment options and seek a second opinion, if desired.