Breast cancer is not just one disease: there are many types and stages, and each requires a different type of treatment.
Women need to know which type of cancer they are suffering from to get the best therapy for their disease type.
The appropriate treatment gives reason for optimism.
What can you do?
In addition to being a good listener and providing emotional support, there are many other practical ways for you as a “Breast Friend” to help your loved ones fight breast cancer.
- Gather information about breast cancer from a variety of available sources (including the Internet), and if you need help, contact the healthcare professional treating the patient.
- Follow the patient in her visits to the doctor, help her ask questions, and record the answers.
- Encourage her to talk to the women who have breast cancer.
- Help her with daily chores (cooking, cleaning, child care).
- Stay positive and suggest a time to relax: a walk in the park, shopping, or going to the movies will help dispel worries about the future.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself!
Caring for a friend or relative suffering from breast cancer can be helpful and exhausting. To support the person you care for, it is also important to take time for yourself. A healthy diet, regular exercise, lots of sleep, and rest are as important as talking to friends about your own feelings.
Ian Laidlaw – surgeon advisor for breast disease
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women: Approximately one in ten women at a certain age will be diagnosed with cancer. Probably many of us will meet someone who has been in contact with breast cancer, so a basic knowledge of the disease is helpful.
Being a doctor, I encounter questions about breast cancer every day. Here I will try to answer some of the most common questions.
What causes breast cancer?
The causes of breast cancer are not known. But several factors increase the risk of developing this disease. The most common factor is aging: the risk of disease increases with age. Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women who have entered their sixties.
Risk factors for the development of breast cancer
Risk factors include those we cannot control and those we can change:
- personal medical history
- family history
- hormone exposure caused by early menstruation and/or late menopause, oral contraception, hormone replacement therapy, late pregnancy
- diet / obesity
The presence of one or all of the risks does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer, but if the presence of any of these factors worries you, consult a doctor.
Ways of early detection of breast cancer
If breast cancer is detected early, treatment is simpler and more effective. Regular mammograms are the best way to detect nodules early. A mammogram is a special type of X-ray examination of the breast. The amount of radiation during the X-ray examination is minimal.
Mammograms detect cancer because it is a tissue of breast cancer denser (thicker) than normal breast tissue. Many countries allow regular mammogram examinations for women of certain age groups. As seen in the drawing, the average size of a lump detected by a mammogram is usually much smaller than that found by a woman herself.
Changes in the breast that need attention
It is important to perform breast self-examination regularly, every month, during a certain part of the menstrual cycle. Over time, the woman will get to know the texture of the breasts and will be able to detect the appearance of a new lump or something unusual. Note the following phenomena:
- new lump (which may or may not be painful to the touch)
- more pronounced veins on the surface of the skin of one breast
- sticky or bloody discharge from the nipples
- changes in the skin of the nipples or chest, such as wrinkles or indentations
- unusual enlargement of one breast
- one breast is lower than the other
If you find a lump, don’t panic – most breast lumps are harmless. Still, don’t hesitate. Consult a doctor, who will perform further examinations.
The diagnosis of breast cancer is a shocking and traumatic experience for most women. It can be difficult to come together and decide what needs to be done first.
Tips for women who have just been diagnosed with cancer
Don’t panic – give yourself time
The most important thing is to take the time to learn more about the type of cancer you are suffering from and the types of treatment available. Then you can choose the most appropriate treatment. If you take the time, for example, a few weeks, it will not affect the outcome of the treatment, and it will very much affect your peace of mind and confidence in the treatment you have chosen in collaboration with your doctor.
Talk openly with your doctor
“Everyone was careful, really wonderful, but I later realized that no one told me anything.” (patient with breast cancer)
Good communication between the patient and the doctor has been shown to contribute to a better breast cancer treatment outcome, so women must receive clear information about their condition after being diagnosed. The doctor understands your concerns, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Find a person who will be your “Breast Friend”
When you go for a checkup, bring a close friend or family member. It will be easier for you to remember and understand what the doctor is telling you if someone is with you. Friends and family members will help you reduce the anxiety associated with the entire review process, and “Breast Friend” will help you ask important questions.
Here’s what your “Breast Friend” can help you with:
Gathering all necessary information
A full understanding of the type of breast cancer you are suffering from and your own body’s condition will make it easier for you to choose the best options to beat that disease. Gather information from physicians and patient support groups and share it with family and friends to make it easier for you to understand this information properly.
Classification of information
Keep all documentation, including breast cancer information, lab reports, medical records, hospital checkups, and contacts, in one place. It will help you when you need notes and when you need to make a list of questions about what is not clear to you and the person who is your “Breast Friend.”
Dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer
Shock and disbelief are common reactions to the diagnosis of breast cancer. A few tips on how to deal with the diagnosis.
- Choose a “Breast Friend” that will provide you with emotional and practical support, e.g., go to the doctor with you.
- Contact your local patient association and seek independent advice.
- Talk to the women who won breast cancer.
- Find time for yourself.
- Set boundaries for yourself and others, and don’t do more than you can.
- Do not experience breast cancer alone. Get help from Breast Friend.
Reminder to visit a doctor
To make the most of your visit to the doctor, have:
- your “Breast Friend,” who will ask questions, record answers, and provide you with support
- notebook or dictaphone
- a list of questions to ask your doctor
- a personal and family medical history that you will tell your doctor
- details of the medications you are currently using
Questions to ask your doctor
Be sure to take a pen and paper to write down all the answers. It is useful if you are accompanied by someone who listens to everything the doctor says.
Cancer you are suffering from
At what stage is the breast cancer I am suffering from? What type of breast cancer do I have? Is there something that makes the prognosis better or worse?
What searches will be needed? When will they be done, and when can I expect the findings? What will the findings mean to you? Are there tests for genetic predispositions for cancer I suffer from?
Cancer treatment options
What medications are most appropriate for the type of cancer I suffer from? How long will I take the medication, how often, and where? How and when will I know if the treatment affects me? Are there nurses in your ward who work with breast cancer patients? Can I talk to a patient you treat who is undergoing the same therapy? Where can I get more information?
What possible side effects should be expected? Are there any medications that alleviate the side effects?
How will cancer treatment affect my life? Will I be able to work? Will someone have to help me with household chores? Should I avoid some activities during chemotherapy?
Different types of breast cancer
Breast cancer, like all cancers, is a complex disease. There is no one species. Various processes drive its growth, and some forms, such as HER2-positive breast cancer, are more aggressive than others.
It is important to ask your doctor to send you all breast cancer tests to determine the type of cancer and the reason for the growth. The examination findings will make it easier for the doctor to determine the type of treatment for that particular type of breast cancer. Such “personalized treatment” provides women with the greatest prospects for a positive outcome.
The treatment for breast cancer depends not only on the type of cancer. There are additional factors that your doctor will consider when determining the stage (early or advanced), and you may need to discuss the following:
- breast tumor size
- tumor site, including spread to surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, and other organs
Different types of treatment
The first step in cancer treatment for many women is surgery to remove the cancer cells. It is often a lumpectomy (surgical removal of part of the breast), but some women also need a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). It is important to know if the lymph glands are also affected, which is usually detected during surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy is recommended before surgery to shrink the tumor and spare breast surgery.
Many women undergo additional treatment after surgery to reduce cancer chances of coming back and spreading. Types of therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and biological treatment consisting of natural body substances.
The most important thing is to talk to your doctor about the most appropriate type of treatment and breast cancer type. This will soothe patients and give them the best chance of successfully fighting the disease.