The word cancer, in any form, is a scary term. It brings up a lot of questions, concerns and fears to be addressed. What is the prognosis? What are my treatment options? Where do I go from here? For the month of October, we take a look at the most common cancer among women in the United States: breast cancer. According to the most recent data, 211,731 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. That same year, 40,676 women died from the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, between 2002 and 2003 breast cancer rates dropped sharply (nearly seven percent).
And with all of the recent research, updated treatments and new resources available, breast cancer can be faced head on – and you won't be alone on this voyage.
The diagnosis is just the first step, but what does it mean and what do you do next? Once it is determined you have breast cancer, your doctor will perform various tests to confirm the stage and type. It's important to understand and ask detailed questions regarding the test results, and even about the tests themselves. According to Cancer Care, a free online support resource site for cancer patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals, some of these questions include:
Is my tumor invasive or non-invasive?
Breast cancer in the earliest stage has the best chance of being cured. Non-invasive breast tumors are confined to the milk ducts and are seen during the earliest stages, while invasive tumors may have spread to nearby tissue.
What stage is my tumor?
It's important to know the stage of the tumor to understand whether the tumor has spread in the body, and the extent of the spread.
What grade is my tumor?
This is determined by examining cancer cells under a microscope; a higher grade cell looks much different from a regular cell. The higher the grade, the quicker it will grow in the body.
What is my HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor)/neu status?
Tumors that overproduce HER2/neu, found in 25 percent of all breast cancers, may respond to treatment drugs.
Now that you have a better idea of what you're dealing with, talk to your doctor about treatment options. For breast cancer patients, typically some type of surgery is performed. According to the American Cancer Society, there are two main surgery options: a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Breast-conserving surgery will remove a part of the affected breast, while a mastectomy is surgery to remove the entire breast. When you reach this stage in your diagnosis, there is a list of questions every woman should ask her doctor as they map out a course of treatment.
Asking the right questions and understanding your options will put you on the road to recovery.
Treatment Questions for Your Doctor
- What is my recommended treatment plan?
- What are the side effects of treatment?
- Am I a candidate for a lumpectomy?
- If I must have a mastectomy, can I have immediate reconstruction or do I have to wait?
- How should I expect to look after surgery?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- Will I need chemo or radiation?
- How likely is my cancer to spread or to come back?
Your Support Resources
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)
This program, led by Medical Director of breast surgical oncology Dr. Anita Johnson, opened in August 2012 with a focus on treating complex and advanced-stage cancer. CTCA is the first hospital in metro Atlanta to offer INTRABEAM intraoperative radiation therapy, which delivers targeted radiation directly to a tumor site. This helps replace nearly seven weeks of routine radiation treatment with a single-dose radiation treatment.
DeKalb Medical Center
Both locations offer a nurse navigator program, a breast cancer support group and the Treehouse Gang, a support group for kids who have family affected by cancer. The Cancer Center, directed by George Miranda, also offers a Return to Wellness exercise program for cancer patients who have completed treatment.
Emory Johns Creek Hospital Breast Center
The Breast Center is designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. The center offers 3-D mammography and breast tomosynthesis, as well as amenities to make visiting breast cancer patients comfortable, such as complimentary valet parking and a private women's waiting area.
Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Hospital
Cancer services at Grady, led by the Executive Director of Oncology Adriene Kinnaird, have been in place for 10 years, including the operation of the Avon Breast Health Center. This is the only program in the Atlanta area offering a pre-op rehabilitation service. Made operational in November 2012, the pre-op assessment determines a patient's baseline function prior to surgery in order to ensure they receive early intervention post-surgery.
The Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship Cancer Institute
This facility has been treating breast cancer for 76 years and is currently run by Breast Cancer Medical Oncologist Dr. Ruth O'Regan. A new program called Winship at the Y offers special rates to cancer survivors to join a Y and work out with trainers specially trained to help cancer survivors. Genetic testing is also offered to determine whether women should consider preventative treatment.
Gwinnett Medical Center
The breast cancer program, led by the Director of Oncology Services Katherine Michaud, MPA, offers weekly multidisciplinary meetings to review and discuss patient cases to develop treatment plans, as well as a breast health navigator program and support groups. The Look Good program is led by an appearance specialist to help women cope with appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment, like teaching makeup techniques and using wigs or scarves to cover hair loss.
Kaiser Permanente Breast Care Center
Patients play an active role in the decision making process at the Breast Care Center, which was developed in 2010. Directed by Dr. Peter Burns, the center brings together a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists and allows patients to sit down with their breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and breast care coordinator within days of a diagnosis to develop a plan.
North Fulton Breast Care Program
North Fulton Hospital's breast care center, headed by Dr. Laura Pearson, has offered breast cancer treatment for more than 30 years. The breast center can provide pathology reports within 48 hours of a biopsy and offers a Breast Nurse Navigator program for patients to have individualized assistance.
Northside Hospital's Breast Care Program
Northside Hospital hosts the largest single-hospital Breast Care Program in the Southeast – more cases of breast cancer are diagnosed and treated at Northside than any other community hospital in the Southeast. A Woman's Place, a specialty boutique, offers custom-fit breast forms, mastectomy bras, wigs, lymphedema products and more.
Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center
Cancer services at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital were accredited by the Commission on Cancer in 1977; the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center opened in 2004. The department is headed by John Goodman, Executive Director of Oncology Services, and offers 3-D breast imaging technology. They have free programs, such as cooking classes, meditation, exercise and support groups for anyone regardless of where they received treatment.
Saint Joseph's Hospital – Ed and Dora Voyles Breast Health Center
The Breast Health Center offers breast health and diagnostic interventional procedures including mammography, ultrasound, stereotactic biopsy, Mammotone, upright digital stereotactic technology and sentinel lymph node biopsy. The Saint Joseph's Cancer Survivors Network offers support for patients, survivors and families dealing with cancer.
TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation
This non-profit organization provides multiple services for women with breast cancer, including physical therapy, massage therapy, counseling and nutritional counseling. Licensed and experienced professionals sit down with each new patient to establish a comprehensive plan to address different survivorship needs including restoring arm strength, enhancing mood, or establishing ways to decrease the risk of recurrence through lifestyle changes.
Patients Just Like You
Diagnosed: August 2010
Treatment Center: DeKalb Medical Center – Hillandale Campus
Experience: "The Patient Navigator Service is such an important part of any hospital. I am so thankful to be in a place where I have someone go through the process with me. I know I was taken care of."
"I went to Hillandale because I am 71 years old, and I don't feel like running all across the country to find a doctor. Hillandale is in my neighborhood. This is a community hospital, and I believe in it. I named it my Hillandale Hilton because that is the kind of service and treatment that I got – it is top notch."
Diagnosed: October 2012
Treatment Center: Piedmont Newnan Hospital
Experience: "They set me up with a Piedmont Nurse Navigator, and that was the first thing I came in contact with as far as Piedmont's breast cancer service goes. It's like, you have breast cancer, and we're going to have this person by your side the entire time. She helped calm my fears, she listened to me, she spoke with my husband. Also, the cancer wellness services are amazing. It has all these programs for anyone dealing with cancer, and you can go to them for free. I feel like I've benefited from it."
"It was for convenience at first. Everything for me progressed very quickly. I found the lump myself, and my gynecologist through Piedmont sent me to get the ultrasound and mammogram. My head, at the time, was spinning. The doctors helped me make tough decisions, and Piedmont is an amazing hospital. The new Piedmont Newnan Hospital was built close to my home, so I felt good about that."
Diagnosed: March 2013
Treatment Center: Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern
Experience: "There have been so many people that have helped me since I've been here. My doctors take the time to explain what they can do for me. There was one instance after receiving care that I hugged Dr. Anita Johnson
and told her that I wanted her to be my doctor. I can't get anyone better than Dr. Johnson and Dr. Christian Hyde. They also have the most wonderful staff I've ever had dealings with. Dr. Johnson can make me laugh or smile so easily. Her nurse is very special too. What a team!"
"A member of my husband's family had ovarian cancer more than 20 years ago. After undergoing chemo and several treatments, they told her to basically go home and that she wouldn't make it. But she wasn't ready to die and started looking for a new treatment center. A friend of hers saw a commercial for CTCA and told her about it. She called and eventually traveled to CTCA at Midwestern for care. That was over 20 years ago, and she's still alive. When I learned that I had breast cancer, I just wanted it out. I was ready. My husband told me we were going to go for a second opinion and that we needed to go to CTCA at Southeastern. The next day I contacted them, and we set up my appointment."
Diagnosed: January 2007
Treatment Center: Northside Hospital
Experience: "My experience has been excellent. The quality of care has been exceptional. From the moment you arrive to when you leave, the Northside Hospital personnel are caring, kind and professional. I have been in outpatient, extended and inpatient care, and have nothing but good things to say about the personnel and facility. Today, I visit patients as a Northside Hospital Auxiliary volunteer, and the patients tell me the same thing about the personnel and care they are receiving."
"I chose this facility after attending a health and wellness class. I felt that the quality of expertise and care would be exceptional. Also, Northside Hospital Women's Center is convenient to my home and work."
Diagnosed: June 2008
Treatment Center: Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University
Experience: "They are phenomenal. It was amazing. I can't say enough about it. I go back every week and volunteer there and tell as many people as I can that it's an amazing facility. I went into a clinical trial, and everyone from the doctors to the nurses are all behind you at the facility. You have a huge support group. I call my doctors my dream team, and I have no problem recommending them to anyone."
"I was actually directed by a friend who is an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. I had heard of Emory, but I had never heard of Winship, and I actually live right down the street."
Diagnosed: September 2012
Treatment Center: Gwinnett Medical Center
Experience: "GMC has a Breast Health Nurse Navigator. After I was diagnosed, the Breast Health Nurse Navigator contacted me. She was a godsend. She said, 'I know that this can be a difficult and overwhelming time, but I am here to hold your hand and help you. You don't have to go through this alone.' She sent me a package of information. Any questions I had, she answered them. We were concerned about our children. She provided information about support groups for me, my husband and our children. Periodically, she contacts me to see how I am doing."
Why Gwinnett Medical?
"We researched a number of facilities. When my cousin, who is a physician, heard about my condition, he recommended a physician at Gwinnett Medical Center. At GMC, I was not treated like just another patient or a number. The medical staff took time and demonstrated sensitivity and compassion. I could sense that the hospital went the extra mile to make what can be a difficult time as stress-free as possible. Gwinnett Medical Center has a relatively new building dedicated to cancer care, which is also connected to the main hospital. I did not have to travel to different buildings for physician and medical test appointments. Everything was in the same location, thus making going to appointments less stressful."
Diagnosed: March 2012
Treatment Center: North Fulton Hospital
Experience: "Simply amazing! I have not run into any medical professional [with North Fulton] without a smile and genuine compassion. Everyone within my team is there for me and for every other future breast cancer survivor. Every doctor's office within my team communicates every fact and level of treatment with each another. I am so very fortunate for my team– I will survive!"
Why North Fulton?
"I selected North Fulton Hospital as that has always been the hospital I have the greatest confidence in. I have lived in Roswell for more than 20 years, I had my third child there, they set my first broken bone, and now I am going down the path of conquering triple negative breast cancer with my amazing team."
American Cancer Society – www.cancer.org
Breast Care Specialists, LLC – (404) 255-8086, www.breastcareatlanta.com
The Breast Health Clinic – (770) 461-1337, www.thebreasthealthclinic.com
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) – Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, (770) 400-6000, www.cancercenter.com
DeKalb Medical Center – (404) 501-1000, www.dekalbmedical.org
Emory Johns Creek Hospital Breast Center – (678) 474-8200, www.emoryjohnscreek.com
Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Hospital – (404) 489-9000, www.gradycancer.org
Gwinnett Medical Center Breast Program – (678) 312-2197, www.gwinnettmedicalcenter.org
Kaiser Permanente of Georgia Breast Care Center – www.kaiserpermanente.org
Northside Hospital – (404) 851-8000, www.northside.com
North Fulton Hospital – (770)-751-2500, www.nfultonhospital.com
Piedmont Atlanta Hospital – (770) 801-2345, www.piedmont.org/Main/Doris-Shaheen-Breast-Health-Center.aspx
Saint Joseph's Hospital – (678) 843-7471, www.stjosephsatlanta.org
Southern Regional Medical Center – (770) 991-8000, www.southernregional.org
TurningPoint Women's Healthcare - (770) 360-9271 www.myturningpoint.org
Winship Cancer Institute – (404) 778-1900, www.winshipcancer.emory.edu