Two experts from the Redl Center for Cancer Care at MidHudson Regional Hospital offer insights – and dispel myths – regarding breast cancer.
By Lisa Cesarano
As seen in the September/October 2019 issue of Advancing Care
Medical oncologist Christine Pellegrino, MD, and Salvatore V. Raccuia, MD, Director of Breast and Women’s Imaging at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), reveal 20 things all women should know about the risk factors, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
1. Risk factors are diverse.
“It’s hard to tease out one risk in particular – like with smoking for lung cancer or alcohol for liver disease,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “Family history plays a role, but age is also a risk factor.”
2. Timing is everything.
“If there’s a strong family history in a first-degree relative such as a mother or a sister, you are at increased risk and should have your first mammogram 10 years before the age your relative was first diagnosed,” says Dr. Raccuia. “For example, if your mother or sister was diagnosed at 35, then you should begin screening at 25.”
3. Injuries don’t cause breast cancer.
“Trauma or injuries have not been shown to be a risk factor for breast cancer,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “If anything, an injury can bring more awareness to your breasts and to any suspicious changes.”
4. Soy isn’t necessarily bad.
“Currently, there’s no definitive proof that soy products have an impact on risk,” says Dr. Pellegrino.
5. Don’t fall for urban myths.
According to Dr. Pellegrino, “there’s no scientific evidence that piercings, the use of antiperspirants or underwire bras cause cancer.”
6. It’s not just a woman’s disease.
“The rate for male breast cancer is 1 in 1,000,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “Men should not ignore lumps. If diagnosed, men are treated similarly to women, with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. With men, family history is important – and men with breast cancer can be carriers of the BRCA2 mutation, which makes a person susceptible to developing breast cancer.”
Westchester Medical Center . . . . . . 914.246.6600
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital . . . 914.493.7997
MidHudson Regional Hospital . . . . . 845.483.5997
Good Samaritan Hospital . . . . . . . . . 845.368.5185
St. Anthony Community Hospital . . 845.987.5167
HealthAlliance Hospital . . . . . . . . . . 845.338.2500
7. Avoid or limit alcohol and tobacco.
“More than two drinks per day increases a woman’s risk,” says Dr. Pellegrino, “and tobacco isn’t good for anyone.”
8. Breastfeeding is beneficial.
“It has a protective effect by suppressing ovulation and exposure to cyclical hormones naturally,” says Dr. Pellegrino.
9. Consider genetic testing.
“If you’re at high risk,” says Dr. Pellegrino, “genetic testing should be considered. For example, women 50 or younger, women with triple-negative breast cancer or a positive family history should be evaluated for genetic testing.”
10. Annual mammograms save lives.
Simply put, “if you are over age 40, you should get an annual mammogram,” says Dr. Raccuia.
11. Ride out the discomfort.
“Mammograms can be uncomfortable, but they’re vitally important. Imagine looking for a pebble in a ball of clay,” says Dr. Raccuia. “Compression is how mammograms work. If you experience excessive pain, taking an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen before a mammogram may help.”
12. Look for visual changes in your breasts.
“In addition to lumps,” says Dr. Raccuia, “be suspicious of skin-texture changes and unusual discharge or blood from the nipple.”
13. Mammography is the gold standard.
“There are complementary diagnostic tools such as ultrasounds and breast MRI, but mammograms are the only internationally recognized screening tool for the breast,” says Dr. Raccuia.
14. All imaging centers are not the same.
“At MidHudson Regional Hospital, your mammogram will be read by board-certified radiologists, fellowship-trained in breast imaging, who are assisted by the most advanced technologies. We have the best 3D mammogram machines available and great ultrasound and MRI machines and biopsy tables. Most of our patients receive results the same day.”
15. Not all masses are cancer.
“But it’s important to investigate whether or not a lump is malignant. It may well be benign, but we need to prove that. Also, if you are diagnosed, in most cases, you won’t lose your breast — there are many different treatment options,” says Dr. Raccuia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer* in the United States is:
• The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
• The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
• The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
In 2016**, for every 100,000 women, 124 new breast cancer cases were reported and 20 women died of the disease.
*Not counting certain types of skin cancer
**the latest year for which incidence data are available
16. This isn’t your mother’s (or grandmother’s) chemotherapy.
“The biggest misconception about treatment is that it has many side effects,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “There have been many advances that make chemotherapy more manageable.” Depending on the tumor type, some patients may only require hormone or endocrine therapy, she adds.
17. There’s power in positive thinking.
“Research has found that a positive attitude increases your sense of well-being,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “People with a more negative mindset may have a harder time with treatment.”
18. Consider some alternatives.
Though they don’t treat the cancer specifically, complementary, herbal and alternative treatments – such as yoga or reiki – can help the mind and body. “If it helps the patient, I’m all for it,” says Dr. Pellegrino, “as long as they share exactly what they’re doing to avoid potential conflicts with their treatment.”
19. Treatments are personal.
“At the Redl Center, we practice personalized medicine,” says Dr. Pellegrino. “This applies not only to the patient but to their tumor as well. We have expanded our pathologic assessment of tumors, specifically for receptor and gene mutations. This helps us quickly determine if there is a specific medication available to target the tumor.”
20. You don’t need to travel to New York City for top-notch care.
“We have on-site, cutting-edge technology,” says Dr. Raccuia. “We are all fellowship-trained and board-certified in our fields. We bring all of these strengths to a community setting.”
Visit us at MidHudson Regional Hospital, a member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, to learn more. Advancing Care. Here.