Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth Edwards, has brought breast cancer into the political spotlight. Since 2004 the mother of four and wife to the former U.S. Senator has battled breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the darkest diseases that affects million of women; medical estimate than 1 in 7 or 1 in 9 women will have this disease at some point in their life makes for sobering reading, and for an even worse understanding of the disease if it touches someone you love.
All women face this risk; some have genetic issues and know that they are at higher risk than the general population, while other women, through poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and smoking while using hormonal birth control, place themselves at higher risk. In addition, breast cancer can be detected through preventive, regular checkups. When patients do not go in for routine care, or if a woman is one of the 47 million people in the U.S. who lacks health insurance, the cancer is often diagnosed in a later stage, too far gone for easier treatment.
Going in for regular breast exams and mammograms for older women or women in higher-risk groups is crucial. It's easy for people to put their heads in the sand and live life as if it could never happen, but the best way for women to protect themselves is to face the doctor each year in order to remain as healthy as possible.
If a woman does go to the doctor, and during an exam a lump is discovered, the preimary care physician typically sends the patient for a mammogram and further tests. A trained radiologist then reviews the mammogram and makes any needed diagnosis. in addition, the physician typically orders a biopsy. In a biopsy, a needle is inserted into the lump and cells are withdrawn. The cells are tested. If the test result is benign, the physician may recommend just watching the lump. If the test result is malignant, then the lump must be removed, and further tests are needed to see how far the cancer has spread.
Breast cancer is a silent disease. It is rarely painful in the early stages. Because it is asymptomatic, and women with breast cancer often feel fine, energetic, and perfectly healthy, the disgnosis can come as a complete shock. The first sign is usually a lump; breast tissue from the armpit all the way into and under the breasts can be affected by breast cancer.
Sometimes lumps can be caused by fibrocystic breasts, a benign condition that can mimic cancer. This is why a trained physician is a crucial part of any woman's breast health.
If the patient is diagnosed with cancer, then the normal procedure is to be referred to an oncologist, who will draw up a treatment plan which may include the removal of the lump or entire breast, radiation, and chemotherapy. Each woman's disease profuile is different, and evern doctor should treat each woman as an individual.
Women who have concerns should see a doctor immediately, and know that if detected early, breast cancer is highly treatable. Medical vigilence is absolutely crucial, and this diagnosis is no longer a near-automatic death sentence as it was 50 or 70 years. As with all health matters, being safe and careful, listening to medical advice, and getting preventive care can make a huge difference.