Category Archives: Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test And Its Accuracy

Image Source: rgbstock.com / Littleman

Image Source: rgbstock.com / Littleman

The CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test And Its Accuracy

Women who have been through treatments for breast cancer are normally followed for five years to monitor their status and one of the tests frequently done by doctors is the CA 15-3 marker test. In this article I will share some information about the CA 15-3 test, discuss the accuracy of the test, and some new research.

What Is The CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test?

CA 15-3 stands for cancer antigen 15-3 which is a protein produced by normal breast cells.  Some  people – not all – with cancerous breast tumors have an increased production of CA 15-3.  The protein does not cause or promote cancer, rather copies of it are cast off by tumor cells, the copies then enter the bloodstream and can be detected through a blood sample.

CA 15-3 Not That Reliable For Early Stage Breast Cancer

The problem with the CA 15-3 test is that it is not all that reliable, particularly for early breast cancer.  One source indicated that CA 15-3 is elevated in only about 10% of women with early localized breast cancer, while another source indicated the figure was 30%.  CA 15-3 levels can also be completely absent in early-stage breast cancer, making it quite difficult to rely upon this test for early stage cancers or those tumors that do not express the antigen.

A 1999 Italian study comparing the CA 15-3 test with another marker test, the CA 27-29, found that “CA27.29 discriminates primary breast cancer from healthy subjects better than CA15.3, especially in patients with limited disease.” 1

Other Conditions Can Cause Elevated CA 15-3 Levels

CA 15-3 levels can also be elevated in healthy people, as well as in people with other cancers such as lung, pancreas, colon, ovary, or prostate.  Elevated levels are also seen in benign breast disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, tuberculosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis – and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

CA 15-3 More Useful In Metastatic Breast Cancer, Response To Treatment

For those with metastatic breast cancer, the CA 15-3 test does tend to be a bit more reliable an indicator, being elevated in 50-90% of those with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, particularly when metastases to the bones or liver exist.  One French study 2 found that 42% of women with metastases present had normal CA 15-3 levels, however.

The CA 15-3 test tends to be most useful for deciding whether a certain treatment is assisting the patient or not, as a decrease in CA 15-3 levels during treatment such as chemotherapy tells the doctor that the tumor is responding to the treatment, while a stable or increasing marker level may indicate that the tumor has not responded as well (or at all) to the treatment.

While it can be worrisome to the patient to be monitored for CA 15-3 – especially if the marker keeps rising over a period of time and various other tests have not picked up cancer activity – it can be a sign for the patient to be more proactive with their anti-cancer regimen rather than waiting for the development of physical symptoms.  Knowing levels are rising early on can have a huge impact on therapies chosen and survival.

New Study Indicates A Combo Of Marker Tests More Specific

A March 2015 study 3 indicated that a combination of 3 marker tests was more useful.  204 disease-free breast cancer patients who had undergone mastectomy were followed and monitored for an average of 3.7 years with a combination of three marker tests.  Researchers employed the CA 15-3, one called TPA (for tissue polypeptide antigen, more on that below), and one called CEA (for carcinoembryonic antigen, more on that below).  This study indicated that “the sensitivity of the CEA-TPA-CA15.3 tumor marker panel was 93%, the specificity was 97.6% and the rate of false ‘warning signals’ per year of follow-up was 9 per 100 patients.”

In addition to the above study, another smaller but interesting Iraqi study on women with breast cancer indicated that tissue polypeptide antigen (TPA) levels were a good indicator of disease progression, as well as tumor response. 4

The carcinoembryonic antigen test (CEA) was studied in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with chemotherapy.  The researchers reported that low levels of CEA were indicative of progression-free survival. 5

Obviously, new marker tests are being discovered and researched.  A study yet to be published in the Journal of Proteomics 6 reported that there was a necessity for the identification of new markers for breast cancer that could lead to early detection and also provide evidence of effective treatment.  The researchers examined 1,020 polypeptides and discovered 78 that were overexpressed in all cancer lines. This kind of forward-thinking research may help us to discover new and better ways of identifying earlier the existence of breast cancer as well as response to treatments.

In the meantime, and to sum up, please be aware that a CA 15-3 tumor marker test on its own does not provide enough information to screen for the presence of breast cancer.  Normal levels do not ensure the absence of localized or metastatic breast cancer, further tests should be employed.

2017 Update: See also my article The Telomerase Test for Monitoring Breast Cancer.

References:

http://breastcancer.about.com/od/tumormarkers/f/ca_15-3.htm

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2087491-overview#aw2aab6b3

1.  Comparison of the Diagnostic Accuracy of CA27.29 and CA15.3 in Primary Breast Cancer – http://www.clinchem.org/content/45/5/630.short

2.  Value of CA 15-3 determination in the initial management of breast cancer patients – http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/5/962.2.full

3.  An individual reference limit for ‘early’ diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer during postoperative follow-up – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25808435

4. Tissue polypeptide antigen & interleukin-6: Are their serum levels a predictor for response to chemotherapy in breast cancer? – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25225536

5.  The Association of Serum Carcinoembryonic Antigen, Carbohydrate Antigen 19-9, Thymidine Kinase, and Tissue Polypeptide Specific Antigen with Outcomes of Patients with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Treated with Bevacizumab: a Retrospective Study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25875421

6.  Determination of the protein expression profiles of breast cancer cell lines by quantitative proteomics using iTRAQ labelling and tandem mass spectrometry – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25918110

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / photostock

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / photostock

How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

One of the things I hear all too often from my breast cancer coaching clients is that they are tired of being bullied by their doctor when they want to investigate more natural ways to heal breast cancer, and many ask me for help on how to be more assertive at the doctor’s office.

Really – this is a big deal.  People who are going through breast cancer are having to make lots of decisions about their treatments in a pretty short period of time.

The decisions that need to be made are scary, and if the wrong decision gets made, it could be quite detrimental to one’s health and, ultimately, life.  So that part is hard enough.

Many of the people with whom I am working are wanting to go a more natural route.  Some may choose to have chemotherapy and/or radiation and use a blend of natural therapies, some don’t want the toxicity of chemotherapy or radiation at all, and some will depart from their oncologist’s recommendations when it comes to the subject of hormone blocking medications.

Dealing With The Dinosaurs

Regardless of a person’s choices, it has been my observation that the more forward-thinking doctors are okay with their patient’s choices and support their decisions.

Every once in awhile, however, we run across a dinosaur.  A doctor who absolutely refuses to see their patient’s argument and gets mad at them for having an opinion that is contrary to what is being recommended.

The dinosaurs are apt to say all kinds of negative things like, “Well you will be seeing me again in a few months when the cancer comes back.” or “You will be sorry that you made that decision.”

The most heinous thing I was ever told by one of my ladies is that her doctor told her “You are a dead woman walking.”  Can you believe that?  It  still makes me madder than a wet hen.

So how to deal with the dinosaurs?  

It can be a scary thing, going against your doctor’s orders.  I know a few women who just about have an anxiety attack when they know they are going to have “that conversation” with their doctor.

Assertiveness is a skill that takes practice.  It may be much easier for you to swallow your feelings and just crumble, but how will that make you feel later?  You won’t be happy about it, I promise.

Please note – I am not advocating that you go against your doctor’s orders or recommendations.  But if you have decided upon a different course of action and are dealing with a dinosaur, here are my best tips.

7 Tips On How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

1.  Most importantly, know that this is YOUR body.  You get to say what happens to it.  If you are not happy about your doctor’s treatment plan, and you have done the research and decided upon a different course of action, that is your prerogative.  You have every right to do this.

2.  Don’t go in unprepared.  Think about what you want to say.  Print off the research that you have been reading that leads you to believe your course of action is the better one.  Prepare the words you want to use ahead of time.  Visualize the meeting beforehand, with you speaking your truth and your doctor listening, and it will go much more smoothly.

3.  Realize that by saying NO, you are not hurting the doctor’s feelings.  In an hour or two, he/she will most likely forget all about this conversation.

4.  Take a friend or spouse with you – someone who will absolutely have your back and support you if you start to crumble.  Another set of ears to listen and take notes is always a good idea.

5.  While you are in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, do a little deep breathing.  This helps ease your worries and anxiety.  Breathe in what you need – peace, serenity, strength, resolve – and breathe out feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear.

6.  Be specific, calm, honest, clear in your words, and be respectful.  Make eye contact and use confident body language.  The doctor will see that you mean what you say.

7.  Keep emotions in check.  This is not a time to cry or shout or lose your temper.  Keep your voice even and firm.

At the end of the day, realize that your doctor works for you, not the other way around.  You are not there to please them.  They are there to help you get better and you get to have a say in what happens to you.  By all means, listen to their arguments for a particular type of therapy, but if it doesn’t make sense to you, you have every right to seek out another doctor’s opinion and you have every right to say no.

I wish you much healing on your journey.

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

The Power Of The Mind Heals – Give It 100

Photo courtesy of Lusi / rgbstock.com
Photo courtesy of Lusi / rgbstock.com

The Power Of The Mind Heals – Give It 100

As a breast cancer coach I speak nearly daily with women who worry about whether or not they will survive this disease.  Understandable worries.  We speak of many things, such as nutrition, exercise, super foods, etc., and all of these things are important.  But of equal importance is the power of the mind to heal.

Faith, Belief, Hope

I had those same worries ten years ago when I was going through breast cancer.  Back then the Internet wasn’t such a valuable resource, nothing like it is now.  I had heard that we can harness the power of the mind to heal ourselves, and I had read about it in Ian Gawler’s books “You Can Conquer Cancer” and “The Creative Power of Imagery”.  But reading about something and putting it into practice are two very different things.  It requires a lot of faith and belief in what you are doing.  Not to mention hope…

It can be very scary, especially when you decide to go your own way, and against your doctor’s recommendations (I said yes to chemotherapy – eventually – but no to radiation and Tamoxifen, and I am daily in contact with many others doing the same).  But I decided I had nothing to lose and so I went in search of meditation teachers who could show me how to use the power of the mind to heal myself.

What I learned was that our powerful brain allows us to transcend our present reality, providing the power to open us up so that we may create new possibilities for ourselves.
 
Upworthy Video Inspires

I was thinking about this just this morning when I came across the most inspiring video on www.upworthy.com.  The headline read “They Said She Was Paralyzed, And She Couldn’t Afford Her Recovery, Then A Dancer Changed It All“.  Click the link to watch the video.

The dancer in the headline, Karen, didn’t know how to dance but challenged herself to learn it in a year and filmed 10 seconds per day of her progression.  Cynthia, the paralyzed woman, found Karen’s videos and decided that since she couldn’t afford the treatment to get better, she would simply challenge herself each day to keep going, to do a little more and then a little more, and soon she was walking!

I noticed at one point in the film she was also using meditation – it appears at about the 1:07 mark in the video.

I just wanted to share this with you today because it illustrates how powerful we are once we set our minds to doing something.  It can be something small like learning how to draw, or something huge like healing cancer.

But we can do it.  The power of the mind is truly awesome and we only use a small percentage of our big, powerful brains.

Would you like to challenge yourself?  There is a Give It 100 movement you can join – find out more about that here.

If that doesn’t appeal, I have a downloadable course called Change Your Life Meditation Course which explains how the power of the mind works and how you can create some healing for yourself.  I created it for people who live in small towns and don’t have access to meditation groups but anyone can benefit from it.

Thanks to Upworthy.com for the inspiring video, and to Give It 100 for encouraging people to try new things!

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-book on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  It is my honor and my goal to help you through this so that you emerge from breast cancer feeling better than before, thriving!

The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional.  You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem and please be sure to consult your health care professional when making decisions about your health.

An Explanation of Breast Cancer Staging

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin

An Explanation of Breast Cancer Staging

If you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will be anxious to learn in which stage your surgeon considers you to be, because that will more than likely determine the treatment protocol suggested for you.  Your pathology report will discuss staging

The term “staging” refers to the extent of the disease and this is based on several factors – the size of the tumor, whether any lymph nodes are involved, whether the tumor is considered to be invasive or non-invasive, and whether the cancer has spread beyond the breast.

I found a great You Tube video explaining this in detail and the animation is interesting and helpful.  It seems there is a You Tube video for everything these days!

Breast Cancer Staging

Stage 0 – The cancer cells are non-invasive, such as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), and there is no evidence that the cancer cells have spread into neighboring breast tissue or beyond the lobule or duct.

Stage I – This is an early stage of invasive breast cancer, divided into two classifications, IA and IB:

     IA – the tumor is up to 2 cm and the cancer has not spread outside the breast and no lymph nodes are involved.

     IB – there is no tumor in the breast but there are small groups of cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, found in the lymph nodes; OR there is a tumor in the breast that is no larger than 2 cm, and there are small groups of cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, in the lymph nodes

Stage II – Invasive breast cancer, divided into two classifications, IIA and IIB:

     IIA – There are three scenarios in Stage IIA:

  • no tumor is found in the breast, but cancer (larger than 2 mm) is found in 1-3 axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) or in the lymph nodes near the breast bone (found during a sentinel node biopsy); OR
  • the tumor measures 2 cm or smaller and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

     IIB – There are also three scenarios in Stage IIB:

  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 cm; small groups of breast cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, are found in the lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1-3 axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel node biopsy); OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage III – This is considered locally advanced cancer (where large tumors have involved the breast skin, underlying chest structures, changes to the breast’s shape, and lymph node enlargement that is visible or that your doctor can feel during an exam) and is split into 3 classifications, IIIA, IIIB and IIIC:

     IIIA – There are three scenarios in Stage IIIA:

  • no tumor is found in the breast, or the tumor may be any size; cancer is found in 4-9 axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during imaging tests or a physical exam); OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm; small groups of breast cancer cells (larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm) are found in the lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1-3 axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel lymph node biopsy)

     IIIB – There are two scenarios in Stage IIIB:

  • the tumor may be any size and has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast and caused swelling or an ulcer, and may have spread to up to 9 axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

     IIIC – There are three scenarios in Stage IIIC:

  • there may be no sign of cancer in the breast or, if there is a tumor, it may be any size and may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast, and the cancer has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • the cancer has spread to lymph nodes above or below the clavicle (collarbone); OR
  • the cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

Stage IV – The cancer has spread (metastasized) from the breast to other organs and other parts of the body.

Inflammatory breast cancer is generally considered to be Stage IIIB, at least.   Symptoms of IBC include:

  • reddening of a large portion of the breast skin
  • the breast feels warm and may be swollen
  • cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and may be found in the skin.

Information courtesy of breastcancer.org

The most important thing to remember is not to panic, regardless of which stage you are considered to be.  YOU CAN COME BACK FROM THIS AND BE PERFECTLY HEALTHY.  I have a friend who brought herself back from Stage 4 breast cancer, so I know it can be done.  Will it be easy?  No.  You will need to be extremely proactive and involved with every stage of your healing process.  But it can be done.

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond. 

Guest Writer: Catherine Doughty

Catherine Doughty bookA SCIENTIFIC MAP TO NAVIGATE THE MEDICAL MAZE WITH A BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS TO EMERGE CANCER FREE AND LOOK ABSOLUTELY STUNNING!
by Catherine Doughty, MS, CCHI, Award Winning Author

The award winning book, Breast Cancer!  You’re Kidding…Right?  Living Life Through The Prism Of Uncertainty And Having A Good Time is the distilled essence of my cancer experience and the use of scientific methodology to assist in navigating the medical maze bringing clarification to treatment decisions in an uncertain decision space.  I have condensed the subject matter into the smallest compass possible because, as everyone knows who has fallen into what I call the “Cosmic Cancer Bunny Hole,” conciseness, tools for clinical discussions with physicians, and precision in treatment scenario planning is of the greatest assistance in decision making.

Once you have heard the three little words, “You have cancer!”  The first thing that needs to be realized is a fact of fundamental importance, and that is uncertainty.  Because it means breaking away from all of the ordinary predispositions of thought you were living with and reconstructing a new phase of your life.  You also need to give yourself some room to understand the absolutely fresh new scale of values which the prism of uncertainty presents to you.  After you get ahold of uncertainty as the true reality for everyone, it is the sexiest way to live and, every day you will have a rocking hot good time!

In the beginning, don’t imagine that you can assimilate a breast cancer diagnosis, what you will or won’t accept in the treatment planning stages and all that it contains in one or two clinical visits with your surgeon, oncologist or other subject matter experts, or in one or two readings.  You need strategy to navigate the medical maze and fast.  You should review your reports and go over your options again and again with your physicians until you have thoroughly grasped the magnitude of the treatment plans you are willing to consent to because it is you who will live with the aftermath of every clinical decision carried out.

I designed the book with the principles and elements for success, in response to the requests I received from all the cancer patients who I coached voluntarily.  So often, they had been crying for days and weeks at a time and they all had the same question, “Where do I begin to unravel this, and where do you start?”  Hence, the birth of the book, which is loaded with thought provoking strategy to assist anyone with any stage of breast cancer emerge stunning, and get their life back in control while learning how to make decisions in an uncertain decision space and live their life through the prism of uncertainty.  The fascination lies in the simplicity and pure scientific methodology used to provide a complete step by step guide inclusive of discussion documents, clinical consultation worksheets, criteria solution matrices and treatment scenario planning which is critical to a successful outcome.

The book is literally pulling the curtain back and getting the word out there that there is a clear cut strategy for anyone with any stage of breast cancer needing treatment planning that is on the merits and works with life threatening and lifesaving clinical decision making in uncertain decision spaces to minimize the risk for recurrence.  The book provides perspective and a practical method for selecting an appropriate treatment plan that is right for you.

Honestly, you will be on the edge of your seat with every single word in this book. It captures the reader from beginning to end, and makes them want to live their life through the prism of uncertainty and have one rocking hot good time. This is an adrenaline thrill ride from start to finish, that you cannot put down.

One of the questions people want to know is how do I get a copy of the book?  The book is available worldwide, including Amazon.com, both paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com/Breast-Cancer-Kidding-Through-Uncertainty/dp/0615498590/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333143496&sr=1-1 , Barnes and Noble, and through your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookstore or through my website at http://www.thecancercat.com.

About the Author:  Catherine Doughty, MS, CCHI is an award winning author who lives in Bellaire, Texas. She serves as an adjunct associate professor for three universities and holds a Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics earned at the University of Texas. Her career as Director in a Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging is enhanced by the fact that she is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

She is available for interviews, media appearances, bloging, radio interviews, book signings, and speaking engagements. If you would like additional information on the secrets of scientific methodology or would like to meet the physicians that endorsed this award winning book, please visit her website at http://www.thecancercat.com/. In order to contact the author directly, send an e-mail to http://cldoughty@yahoo.com or telephone at 832-545-6239.

 

 

Newly Diagnosed? Dealing with Anxiety and Fear

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and artur84
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and artur84

Newly Diagnosed?  Dealing with Anxiety and Fear

It has been my observation that newly diagnosed cancer patients generally have anxiety that is off the charts, and who could blame them?

Fear obviously plays a part in their anxiety – fear of death, pain, loss of function – it can all be life-changing and very scary.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Fear

In an effort to help move you through these sometimes paralyzing feelings, I’ve found some words that I hope will help you.

It comes from the book Living Beyond Limits by David Spiegel, MD:

“There is an important difference between anxiety and fear.  Anxiety is a general sense that something is wrong, which can lead to discomfort, restlessness, and worry, but which is not specific enough to point the way to any resolution of the problem.  Fear is something more specific – you know what you are afraid of, and this tends to make the possibility of effective action to control or reduce the fear more real.  One of the best means of treating anxiety is to convert it to fear, to change a general sense of discomfort to a fear of something in particular.  Thus, a general sense of anxiety in relation to cancer or other illness is best addressed by seeking to define exactly what it is you are anxious about: the discomfort associated with the treatment, the possibility that the disease will spread, the threat of death.  Each of these issues can be explored and addressed, which can reduce the discomfort they cause.  The way to tame anxiety is to confront it directly.  Ask rather than avoid.”

Learning The Language of Cancer

I believe Dr Spiegel gave excellent advice.  A lot of the anxiety of a new diagnosis comes from, I believe, all the new language you have to learn about medical treatments, from those overwhelming discussions of survival chances based on this therapy or that, the side effects of this or that. 

Here are a few tips to help you deal with anxiety and fear:

You must ask questions until you come to understand what is being recommended by your doctors and treatment providers.  No one could absorb all of that information the first time around, so take notes.  It is also good to have a friend or spouse with you – another set of ears listening is really important because I guarantee you, at some point you will be in overload mode and stop listening and possibly miss an important point.

Dr Spiegel also makes the point that as a newly diagnosed patient you must study for the role as though you were learning a new job.  He suggests that doctors, nurses, social workers, and other patients can be your teachers.

I would add to that list of people/teachers: other breast cancer survivors, psychotherapists (to help you manage your stress levels), naturopaths or nutritionists, and massage therapists.

That’s the role of a good healing team – to help you manage your anxiety and fear, to provide you with excellent care, to answer all of your questions in ways that you are able to understand, and to refer you to other members on the team when it’s necessary.

Try not to stay in fear-mode for too long.  Dr Spiegel’s advice to convert your anxiety to a specific fear and then tackle it by addressing each fear is a good one because if you are living in a state of fear you are not focusing on your healing and I believe that’s important to do, especially with a life-threatening disease like cancer.  Don’t beat yourself up because you are experiencing fear and anxiety, but do your best to move through it so that you can start the healing process.

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

The Healing Power of Music

healing power of music
Photo courtesy of Ambro and stock.xchng

Normally, getting ready for my day is a pretty mundane thing.  But today, my iPod was playing some really great music and I was dancing (trying not to be too critical in front of the bathroom mirror – just enjoying the movement and the tunes) and it got me thinking about the healing power of  music.

A Supercharged Brain and U2

When I was going through chemotherapy, the night following my infusion would generally be mostly wakeful.  Those darned chemicals were racing around my body and seemed to supercharge my brain.  So I’d lie for hours and listen to music.

You are never so attentive and mindful of a song and what goes into it as you are during the black of night when there are no distractions.  Using headphones also brings the music closer, you can hear every drum beat, every nuance of the singer’s voice.  It was pure magic – I would listen for hours.  (My favorite night-time listening music was by U2, I love them).

The Healing Power of Music

I found a wonderful website called caregiver.com – written for caregivers of dementia patients.  They had this to say about the healing power of music:

Positive results include elevated mood, increased socialization and appetite and reduction in agitation. These benefits are attributed to the stimulation the brain receives during a music therapy session, a sort of “cognitive workout” inspiring us to coin the phrase, “What exercise is to the body, music is to the brain.” The power of music often inspires physical movement and can be used in combination to encourage gentle exercise.

I was able to find a number of articles on-line that spoke of the healing power of music.  Benefits include:

  • Soothing jangled nerves
  • Calming mind and body
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Boosting immune system
  • Focusing mind and attention
  • And so much more!

PBS has a video you can view (you’ll have to wade through the commercial first) about the Healing Power of Music.  Pretty powerful stuff for brain injury patients.

Anyway – I believe music can be very powerful for those trying to overcome a disease such as cancer.  It can soothe your soul, help you through the treatments, and boost your immune system.  My suggestion?  Get an iPod or MP3 player and load all your very favorite songs on it and take it with you to your treatments.

I am currently also putting together some healing meditations for cancer patients and will post them when they are available.

By the way, the song I was dancing to in the bathroom?  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run”.  Yep, it’s an oldie, but hey – I grew up in the era of the Vietnam War and that song meant a lot to us!  Still sounds great today.

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Making Healing Choices

 

making healing choices
Photo courtesy of adamr, stock.xchng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Healing Choices

Because every person is different – we come from different families, we have different ways of coping with life, different belief systems, different spiritual beliefs, different experiences, emotions and fears — all of this makes us who we are and directly affects how we make healing choices when dealing with a disease such as breast cancer.

One Size Does Not Fit All

I also feel that that very difference between each of us means that not one size fits all with regard to medical treatments, both conventional and alternative/complementary.  It is because each person is so unique that I feel medicine in the future will stop throwing the exact same therapies at each of us to help us heal from breast cancer.

We have already seen a leaning toward that future of medicine with chemosensitivity testing, although it is currently more prevalent in EU countries than here in the US.

Being a natural therapist, I needed to be able to make my healing choices from a combination of both conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine.  I was able to choose each modality and combine them to help me get to that healing place quickly and because I had the breast cancer background already (having gone through it with both grandmother and mother) and had studied it so intensively, I felt very blessed and fortunate to have those healing choices.

Honoring Choices

I believe it’s important to honor the wellness choices every person makes and to respect their religious and spiritual beliefs, even if they are quite different from our own.  Many doctors don’t take these important differences into consideration though – some act absolutely outrageously if one of us doesn’t follow their recommendations to the finest detail.

What Are They Thinking?

My own very good oncologist, although baffled at me sometimes, respected my decisions and did his level best not to say things like “You’ll come to regret that decision” or “Well, if you get it back again, don’t expect me to treat you.”  Amazingly, other cancer patients hear those statements all too frequently.

One of my subscribers was told by her oncologist that she was a “dead woman walking”.  That kind of negative, defeating statement fills me with rage!

It’s a pity that so many treatment providers tend to believe that the therapies they offer are the ONLY ones that should be considered.  I know they do their best, but what I’ve discovered is that the answers to healing come from many different directions.

It is so very important to have doctors and natural therapists that really hear you, respect you as a separate human being, and treat you accordingly.

Trusting Our Inner Wisdom

We need to trust our inner wisdom with any healing choices. Pay attention to your differences and make the best choice for you.  This is your journey and your body and you have every right to choose what happens.  Choice may be the only true power that we have during this difficult journey with breast cancer.

Can I Help You?

If I can help you on your path, I’m honored to do so.  I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClarkcom) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Lastly I’d like to share this quote from Buddha (this also appears on my “About Me” page):

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.  Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will only lead to delusion.  Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself, give up the bad and embrace the good.”

How To Tell Your Child You Have Breast Cancer

how to tell your child you have breast cancer
Image Source: stock.xchng / pat138241

 How To Tell Your Child You Have Breast Cancer

A few of my newly diagnosed readers have intimated to me that they are having some difficulty with how to tell their children they have breast cancer.  I do have a little experience with this, and I have asked a friend, a child psychologist, for some advice.  Here are our best tips on how to tell your child you have breast cancer.  My heart goes out to everyone concerned.

To Tell Or Not To Tell…

Experts recommend that the sooner you tell your children that you have breast cancer, the better.  Mothers may not want to distract their children from their daily activities or be a cause of them worrying, but older children especially deserve to be told.

Children are very perceptive and know that you are not feeling well, so not talking about your breast cancer may bring on anxiety and fear for them.  Telling them shows your children that you have confidence in their ability to cope and decreases their feelings of being useless during your breast cancer treatment.

Also, by not telling them, you risk that someone else might tell them and in so doing, might not have the sensitivity of telling them all they should know in a kind and loving way.

Age Is A Factor

Age is an important factor when deciding what to tell a child about a breast cancer diagnosis. Your child should be told the truth in such a way that they are able to understand and prepare themselves for the changes that will happen in the family.  All kids thrive on routine – it helps them to feel safe.  When life becomes unpredictable, they will need help adjusting to the changes.

All children need the following basic information:

  • The type of cancer that you have
  • The part of the body where the cancer is
  • The treatment you will receive
  • How their own lives will be affected

Telling Younger Children – Up to 8 Years

Young children won’t need a lot of detailed information but they do need to understand the family’s concerns and be told the above 4 things.  Younger children can also be told that the body is made up of lots of different parts and that when someone has cancer, it means that something has gone wrong with one of these parts and it has stopped doing what it’s supposed to do, that part of the body is no longer normal.

They are able to understand that a bunch of bad cells started to grow and that’s called a tumor and that the tumor (or the bad cells) should not be there.  Cancer can spread and grow into other parts of a person’s body, so the person needs treatment to either take out the tumor or stop the bad cells from spreading to other places.  Some children may not have any questions at first, but invite them to ask you later if they think of any.

Telling Older Children  & Teens

Older children (8-12 yrs) and teens will need to know more. Teens are busy testing their independence and pushing their limits, and they will have a very different set of concerns from a 5-year-old who needs parents for basic care giving.

Older children may be able to understand a more complex discussion of cancer – they may want to see pictures of cancer cells or read about cancer treatment.  Again, encourage them to ask questions and answer the best way you can.  If they ask something you can’t answer, promise to get them the information they request.  They will appreciate this.

11 Tips For Telling Your Child You Have Breast Cancer

  1. Set up a quiet time when you won’t be disturbed. If you have more than one child, you may want to talk to each child alone so that information can be tailored to each child’s age and understanding.  Be aware that each child will respond differently – by telling them separately, you can pay close attention to how each child responds.  Each child may also be more willing to ask questions when away from the other children and possible distractions.
  2. You may also want to include another family member to whom your child feels close, for extra support.
  3. Turn off your cell phone, put the pets outside, and don’t answer the door while you are having this talk.  If you stop to deal with distractions when your child is opening up to you, the child may find it more difficult  to try again.
  4. Plan ahead of time what you want to say and how to answer questions on a level that each child is able to understand.  It’s good if you can lay the groundwork for an open line of communication with the child, a way for the child to come to you with their concerns, needs, and fears. If you can start this and keep it going by regularly checking in with each child during and after your cancer treatments, it can be a great comfort to them and help them to feel you aren’t hiding anything.
  5. Make sure to stress that you will be getting good care and treatment and that new and better cancer treatments are being discovered every day.
  6. Help your children know what to expect during your breast cancer treatments so they will not be surprised about your lack of energy or change of appearance. You don’t have to tell them everything at once. You can give the information in small doses so that they will not be overwhelmed.
  7. Make sure your kids understand that cancer and chemotherapy treatments are not permanent conditions.  There will come a day when you will be done with your treatments and that you and your doctors will do everything possible to help you regain your health.
  8. Because children tend to feel that they are the center of the world, they might feel that something they did or didn’t do might have caused your cancer.  Studies show that most children believe this at some point during the cancer experience.  It’s a good idea to reassure them by saying something like, “The doctors have told us that no one can cause someone else to get cancer — it’s nothing that any of us made happen.”  It’s better not to wait to see if children bring this up because they could be feeling guilty without saying so.
  9. Make sure your kids know that cancer is not contagious and they cannot catch it.  They also need to know that not everyone dies from it.  It’s a good idea to correct these ideas before the child has a chance to worry.
  10. Let your children express their fears, confusion, anger or tears.  Comfort them and let them know that you care, and allow them to express their feelings so that they will be able to move through this journey with you.
  11. Try to keep a positive outlook but know that there will be days when you might not cope so well.  You could explain to your kids that you might have difficult days with pain from surgery or medication, and tell them those are the days when you will need them to be extra helpful.

Helpful Children’s Books

I also recommend two further resources:

Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings” by Ellen McVicker and Nanci Hersh.  It uses clear, candid text, the illustrations are yummy, and it is a touching resource that can be used to educate and support children who are facing the cancer of a loved one. The book is available in both English and Spanish and you can purchase it by clicking on the link.  There is a lot of information on the website, I highly recommend you pay it a visit.

In Mommy’s Garden: A Book To Help Explain Cancer To Young Children” by Neyal J. Ammary and Christopher Risch.  Also available in both English and Spanish, the text in the book is simple and easy to understand, the characters in the illustrations were created with multicultural skin tones and without faces, so that children can easily identify with the characters regardless of their race and they can imagine their loved one’s face in place of the faceless character.  The story plot revolves around the narration of a little girl whose mother has cancer.  She talks about how her mom explained cancer to her by comparing weeds in a garden to cancer cells in the human body. The book also touches upon concerns of children including fear of it being contagious and the child’s emotions when the mother’s weakness from her medical treatments makes her unable to play with her daughter.  Click on the link to find out more or to order the book.

References
American Cancer Society
About.com
Parents Magazine

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Support Breast Cancer Action – A Good Cause

 

support breast cancer action I would like to recommend that you support a breast cancer advocacy group called Breast Cancer Action, a national organization founded in 1990 by a group of women who understood that together we can effect much change.

Breast Cancer Action was born (according to their website) “from a need for a grassroots organization with a unique understanding of the political, economic, and social context of breast cancer.”

BCA’s Mission Statement

“Breast Cancer Action carries the voices of people affected by breast cancer to inspire and compel the changes necessary to end the breast cancer epidemic.”

What I Love About Breast Cancer Action

Their strict contributions policy allows them to be an independent voice for women who are either at risk of breast cancer or are living with it.  They do not take money from anyone who profits from or contributes to the breast cancer epidemic. I believe that’s important.

They advocate for more effective treatments for breast cancer (and less toxic – which is what I’m all about too).

They are committed to raising the public awareness of environmental exposures to harmful chemicals that put people at risk for breast cancer (one of my favorite topics as well).

They have a Think Before You Pink Campaign which you should find out about.  It’s gotten so that I hate the month of October for all the pink ribbons everywhere and the companies who CLAIM to be supporting the fight against breast cancer but continue marketing their toxic chemical-laden body products and cosmetics to unsuspecting women.  GRRR!

Most importantly, BCA is actively opposing gene patenting because the patents give one company the exclusive rights to all testing and research on BRCA genes. This monopoly effectively prevents anyone else from so much as examining the genes, and creates barriers to scientific research and medical care relating to breast and ovarian cancer.

Sign Up For Their Webinars

Yesterday I attended one of BCA’s webinars titled “Reducing Inequities in Breast Cancer – Why Experience Matters”.  So they are also advocates for communities where inequalities exist in getting the proper treatment for breast cancer – whether due to language or cultural barriers, racial inequities, financial barriers, or geographical location).

This webinar was well presented and made me aware that just because we live in the United States, we are not all treated equally with regard to being able to get the proper information and treatment for breast cancer.

Please support Breast Cancer Action with your contributions.

 If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Please Don’t Needlessly Lose Your Breasts to Mastectomy

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin

While I was doing my research for yesterday’s article, I came across an article concerning needless mastectomy, a matter of which I was blissfully unaware.  Today I’m sharing that with you because you need to know.

Women are often enduring mastectomies for no good reason.

I’m not saying it’s always the case, but by the time you’ve finished this article, hopefully you’ll know the best reasons for having a mastectomy and when you should go after a second opinion.

Back on October 27th, Nicholas Regush of ABC News wrote “While we hear news almost daily of the need for women to have mammograms and to inspect their breasts for changes that could suggest breast cancer, the actual treatment for breast cancer that many women receive, especially poor ones, is often outrageously out-of-date, if not bordering on the criminal.”  Here’s a link to the full article.

The article goes on to state, “In Texas, for example, a study of breast cancer treatment at one large urban hospital revealed that 84 percent of the women with early stage breast cancer had mastectomies and only 16 percent had lumpectomies. The women who lost their breasts were mostly poor.”

Mr Regush referenced an article written by Diana Zuckerman, President of the Washington, DC-based National Research Center for Women and Families.  The article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association.  Despite much digging, I wasn’t able to get hold of a copy of that article, but I did discover that Ms Zuckerman has been extremely proactive with the Breast Cancer Public Education Campaign.

Because many women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have all the facts they need to get the treatment that is best for them, the National Research Center has been working to raise awareness of this issue.

Unnecessary Mastectomies

What I discovered from some of the online articles I read was that if a doctor was trained before 1981, his patient is much more likely to have a mastectomy. Apparently, old medical habits are hard to break.

Research is clear that lumpectomies are as safe as a mastectomy for most women with early stage disease.

Back in my grandmother’s day, nearly every woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer underwent mastectomy, often while under anesthesia for the biopsy itself with no participation in a discussion about treatment options.  How fortunate we are that this is no longer the case.

However, tens of thousands of women with breast cancer are losing a breast (sometimes both) unnecessarily each year.  Many women are getting their breasts removed for no good reason — meaning that such decisions are often not based on sound medical judgment but more on the basis of other factors such as her income (it’s cheaper to perform a mastectomy than lumpectomy followed by expensive radiation treatments), the training of her doctor, the age of her doctor, and where she lives.  Sometimes it’s based purely on fear of the return of the disease.

There is absolutely no data that mastectomy (either single or bilateral) in a breast cancer patient improved survival rates or helped them live longer.  It appears that many women are doing this in panic mode.

Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy

Presuming you have already found a breast lump and your doctor has told you it’s malignant, you will need to make the decision between a mastectomy and lumpectomy.

There’s a helpful article in www.breastcancer.org titled Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy.  Please read the article, it references the deciding factors, advantages and disadvantages, and there’s no need for me to reiterate it here.

When Mastectomy Makes Sense

  • If the tumor is big and, after the lumpectomy, very little breast tissue would remain
  • If there are multiple tumors in more than one quadrant of the breast
  • If you do not want to undergo radiation therapy after the surgery (and you don’t have to – I chose against radiation after my lumpectomy but I was very proactive in my health care and chose something else)
  • If you believe you will have less anxiety about a recurrence of breast cancer with a mastectomy

There is an alarming trend of more and more women removing healthy breasts because they are panicked or in fear of breast cancer returning or migrating to the other breast.  In some cases, doctors recommend prophylactic mastectomy, which is surgery that is performed to reduce your breast cancer risk.  That is a whole, huge topic unto itself and the subject of my next article.

While I can’t tell you what to do, I do want you to be aware that YOU HAVE CHOICES.  Please don’t choose mastectomy purely out of fear.  Sign up for my newsletters (the bright colored box on the right) and let me help you through this process.  I will share with you what I did, help you with your anxiety and walk with you through this journey.

Remember, the greatest enemy cancer has is a great functioning immune system.

Making Decisions – Overcoming the “Paralysis of Analysis”

http://MarnieClark.com/Making-Decisions-Overcoming-the-Paralysis-of-AnalysisThe Paralysis of Analysis

When you are first diagnosed with any life-threatening disease, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the decisions you have to make.

Sometimes you might make the conscious decision NOT to make any more decisions until you have more information, or until you’ve talked to that friend who has been through it.  Sometimes you feel absolutely frozen in fear and can’t make any decisions at all, what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King termed “the paralysis of analysis”.  Good turn of phrase!

Getting past that immobilization can sometimes be difficult.  I would encourage you to do just that, however, because there is nothing worse than paralysis in the face of a threat.  You must have a plan for dealing with the threat.  You will notice, in the coming weeks and months, that as you face the fact of your diagnosis you begin to observe that life goes on, even with this threat hanging over you.

I have some recommendations on getting through the decision making time.

4 Ways to Help You Move Beyond the Paralysis

  1. If a lack of information or understanding about the path you need to take is holding you back, talk to your doctor.  Talk to me.  Discuss it with that friend who has been through breast cancer.  Do some searches on the Internet, or have a friend do the searches for you.  Don’t let lack of information hold you back – we live in the age of technology when information is in abundance.
  2. If fear is holding you back, talk to a therapist.  Discussing your plight with a neutral party can often be extraordinarily helpful.
  3. If anxiety is keeping you from making the necessary decisions, and if you don’t know how to meditate, learn.  There is nothing more calming, more grounding, and more helpful than meditation to calm anxiety.  It will also help you with your treatments for the disease.  Meditation will help you focus on the problem at hand and help you make your decision for the right reasons and when you are calm and thoughtful.
  4. Seek solitude.  A long walk along the beach or a river often helps because the atmosphere surrounding places with water is full of negative ions, which help you feel better.  It can help to clear your mind and put things in perspective.

Psychology Today offers us this tasty little bit of advice: “You can practice confident decision-making by remembering a simple dictum over and over: You cannot have certainty and you don’t need it. By accepting that no certainty exists and that you don’t need it, you’ll instead harness intuition and, by extension, confidence.”

Decisions are an inevitable part of being human. It requires the right attitude.  Every problem, properly perceived, becomes an opportunity.

 If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

The Difference Between DCIS, LCIS, ILC, IBC, Paget’s Disease & Phyllodes Tumors

types of breast cancer

The Difference Between DCIS, LCIS, ILC, IBC, Paget’s Disease & Phyllodes Tumors

Some of my subscribers have voiced a little confusion in past weeks over the various types of breast cancer and exactly how they differ, prompting me to write this article and hopefully untangle that confusion.

The 8 Faces of Breast Cancer

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer.  Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma means any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues (including breast tissue) that cover or line the internal organs, and “in situ” means “in its original place.” DCIS is considered “non-invasive” because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk duct into any of the surrounding breast tissue.  DCIS is not considered to be life-threatening, however, having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later on.  Experts feel that when you have had DCIS, you can be at an increased risk for the cancer returning or for developing a new breast cancer than a person who has never had breast cancer.  Studies indicate that most recurrences happen within 5-10 years after initial diagnosis (but this is certainly not always the case).

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), sometimes referred to as infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is the most common type of breast cancer, comprising about 80% of all breast cancers.  Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. Ductal is defined in the paragraph above, and carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover internal organs — such as breast tissue.  All together, “invasive ductal carcinoma” refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the milk duct and begun to invade the tissues of the breast.  Over time, invasive ductal carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of the body.  According to the American Cancer Society, about 2/3 of women are 55 or older when they are diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer, however, it can strike at any age.  IDC also affects men.

There are 5 sub-types of IDC – tubular carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, papillary carcinoma and cribriform carcinoma.  These all refer to a specific type of tumor and these further classifications help your oncologist decide on treatment.  You can find out a lot more about these subtypes on www.breastcancer.org.

Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) is the second most common type of breast cancer after IDC.  Invasive is defined above, lobular refers to cancer that has grown in the milk-producing lobules which empty out into the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. Carcinoma is defined above.  All together, “invasive lobular carcinoma” refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the lobule and begun to invade the tissues of the breast.  Again – over time, ILC can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of the body.  According to the American Cancer Society, this type of breast cancer is more common as women age.

Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS) is when abnormal cells grow inside the lobules of the breast, but have not spread to any nearby tissue or beyond.  With LCIS, the abnormal cells are still in place inside the lobules and have not invaded any other tissues.  Experts feel that it is rare for LCIS to become invasive breast cancer, however, having LCIS increases the risk of invasive breast cancer, statistically speaking.  Compared to women without LCIS, those with LCIS are 7-12 times more likely to develop invasive cancer in either breast.  Studies show that women with LCIS “may” go on to develop ILC or IDC.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is a rare and more aggressive form of breast cancer.  According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1-5% of all breast cancer cases in the USA are IBC.  Inflammatory breast cancer generally starts with the reddening and swelling of the breast rather than a distinct lump.  The alarming thing about IBC is that it tends to spread and grow quickly, with symptoms worsening within days or even hours.  It is very important to recognize symptoms and seek treatment PROMPTLY.  Although IBC is considered a serious diagnosis, keep in mind that treatments today are better at controlling the disease than they used to be.  The average age at diagnosis for IBC in the USA is 57 for white women and 52 for African American women, and that’s about 5 years younger than the average ages at diagnosis for other forms of breast cancer.  I’ve found an excellent resource for women with IBC.  Go to http://eraceibc.com – they are wonderful over there and will provide you with extra support for your specific diagnosis.

Paget’s Disease is a rare form of breast cancer in which cancer cells collect in or around the nipple. The cancer usually affects the ducts of the nipple first (small milk-carrying tubes), then spreads to the nipple surface and the areola (the dark circle of skin around the nipple). The nipple and areola often become scaly, red, itchy, and irritated.  According to the National Cancer Institute, Paget’s disease accounts for less than 5% of all breast cancer cases in the USA. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms because more than 97% of people with Paget’s disease also have cancer, either DCIS or invasive cancer, somewhere else in the breast. The unusual changes in the nipple and areola are often the first indication that breast cancer is present. Doctors aren’t quite sure how Paget’s develops.  It is more common in women, but is sometimes found in men as well and usually develops after the age of 50.

Phyllodes Tumors – Prior to my doing research for this article, I have to admit I’d never even heard of this type of tumor.  It’s a rare one and accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancers.  A phyllodes tumor can be benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous).  This type of tumor is called a “sarcoma,” because it occurs in the connective tissue (stroma) of your breast, rather than in the tissue lining of ducts and lobes.  Phyllodes tumors take their name from the Greek word phullon (leaf) because of their leaf-shaped growth pattern.  This type of tumor will feel like a firm, smooth-sided, bumpy (not spiky) lump in your breast tissue and the skin over the tumor may become reddish and warm to the touch.  This type of tumor seems to grow very fast – so much so that the lump can become bigger in a couple of weeks.

Male Breast Cancer – Breast cancer in men is rather rare, less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men but no discussion of the types of breast cancer would be complete without mentioning this.  In 1998 I lost a family friend to male breast cancer that was diagnosed too late (RIP, Bud).  In 2011, about 2,140 men were diagnosed with male breast cancer.  For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is only about 1 in 1,000.  For risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis of male breast cancer and treatment for male breast cancer go to www.breastcancer.org, an excellent resource.

A Good Visual For You

Someone clever has photographed a bunch of lemons and used them to illustrate things like lumps, a growing vein, nipple retraction – all things to be aware of in reference to breast changes.  The photo is on Stumble Upon (click this link).  I hope this information helps someone!

Sources:

http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/

http://breastcancer.about.com/od/types/p/phyllodes_sa.htm

http://www.eraseibc.com/ibc.html

http://ww5.komen.org/understandingbreastcancerguide.html

If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Choosing the Right Oncologist for YOU

oncologist

Choosing the Right Oncologist for YOU

When a person is newly diagnosed with breast cancer, the last thing on our minds is whether or not we will have the right oncologist – someone who cares about us and understands what we’re going through.

Yet it is probably one of the most important things about your journey through breast cancer because this person is part of your healing team.

What exactly is an oncologist?

Breaking the word down, “onc” means bulk, mass, or tumor, and the suffix ”-logy”, means “study of”.  A medical professional who studies cancer and practices oncology is an ”oncologist”.

I know so many women who have been complaining about their oncologist lately!  There are good ones and bad ones, just as with any profession.  As long as you are paying attention and observant, you’ll easily be able to pick whether you have one or the other.

Honestly, this is so important.  If you don’t feel like your oncologist is giving you what you need, you have every right to “fire” them and find another.  Remember – they work for YOU, not the other way around.

Here’s what to look for

*Are they honest and open, easy to speak with?  Do they look at you and meet your gaze?

*Do they answer your questions using technical jargon you don’t understand?  If so, you must tell them you don’t understand.  Do they then take the time to rephrase the terminology so that you do understand?

*Do they discuss your lab results with you and make sure you understand them?

*Do they present you with options for treatment and explain each one carefully until you understand?

*Do they keep their appointments with you? (keeping in mind that sometimes they will get delayed)

*Do they return your phone calls within 24 hours?

*Are their office staff pleasant to deal with and happy?

*Are they open to allowing you to do some things your way?

If you have to answer “no” to any of those questions, it might be time to find yourself another oncologist.  It’s your body and your life, you have the final say here. 

Having a good rapport with your oncologist is really important because they are part of your healing team.  You must be comfortable with them and know that they are doing their absolute best for you.  If you don’t feel that way, you have every right to find yourself another doctor!

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond. 

New Chemotherapy Drug for HER2+: Genentech’s T-DM1

In June of this year, the results of a new study were released by Duke Cancer Institute for a breast cancer drug known as T-DM1 which is made by Genentech, a unit of Roche, who sponsored the trial.

I didn’t write an article about it at the time because I wanted to do a little more research.

How T-DM1 Works

T-DM1 is designed for those who are HER2 positive, meaning that their tumors have high levels of a protein called HER2.

T-DM1 works a little differently than most chemotherapy drugs.  It consists of toxins that are linked to proteins called antibodies.  The antibodies latch onto cancer cells and deliver their toxic payload directly into the cancer cells.  This is termed an antibody-drug conjugate.

More specifically, to make T-DM1, trastuzumab, the T in the name, is attached to DM1, a toxin more potent than the typical chemotherapy drug.

The trastuzumab latches onto cells with the HER2 protein protruding from their surface and is taken inside the cells.  Once inside, the antibody degrades and sets the toxin free. Although the toxin is still connected to the linker, it is still able to kill the cells.

According to the research, by doing this, side effects are supposedly reduced.

Study Results

The T-DM1 trial involved 991 women with metastatic breast cancer whose cancer was getting worse despite previous treatment with the drug Herceptin (also a Genentech drug) and taxane.  Half of the women in the study got T-DM1 and the other half received two drugs that are now commonly used for such patients — Tykerb, also known as lapatinib, and Xeloda, also known as capecitabine.

According to the study results, T-DM1 delayed the worsening of disease by about three months.  For those who received T-DM1, the median time before the disease progressed was 9.6 months, compared with 6.4 months for those getting the two other drugs.

While it is too early to state that T-DM1 prolonged lives (because not enough time had elapsed since the beginning of the trial and the release of the results), researchers were pretty confident that it would be beneficial.

T-DM1 Side Effects

I have been active in several breast cancer forums and I know of a few women who have been on the T-DM1 trials.  Here’s what some of them have had to say about side effects of T-DM1:

  • Neutropenia – neutrophils are a class of white blood cells in your immune system and neutropenia means a low count of neutrophils
  • Significant aching and stiffness of muscle and joints, pain and cramping – worse in hands and feet
  • Mouth sores, dry mouth
  • Drippy nose, sometimes bloody
  • Liver enzyme elevation
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Fatigue
  • Lung inflammation
  • Heavy periods (if not menopausal)

I thought you might like to know.  To me, that list of side effects sounds a whole lot like most chemotherapy drugs but if they are keeping people alive and giving them hope, that’s always a good thing.

I’ll get excited when researchers come up with effective drugs that don’t have side effects.

Reference articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/health/research/in-study-drug-delays-worsening-of-breast-cancer-with-fewer-side-effects.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&ref=health&src=me&adxnnlx=1344974462-qxirhUkbLGWgXzcVl83Qww

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trastuzumab_emtansine

http://healthyliving.msn.com/diseases/breast-cancer/is-tdm-1-a-miracle-drug-for-advanced-breast-cancer-1

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