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Expert breast cancer care, all under one roof
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, you and your family might be overwhelmed with questions and concerns. Your first decision is where to get treatment.
You want a place where you can get the most advanced treatment options available. A place where you are supported by a team of compassionate experts. A place where you are treated as a whole person.
MultiCare Regional Cancer Center is that place. We have the region’s best health care providers in the field on oncology. Our world-class treatment facility offers cutting edge technology in a welcoming and positive healing environment.
Surviving breast cancer
Stacey Bass tells her touching story of how she was able to survive breast cancer.
Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both breasts. They can invade nearby tissues and form a mass, called a malignant tumor. The cancer cells can spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Breast cancer is many women’s worst fear. But experts have made great progress in treating cancer. If it is found early, breast cancer can often be cured, and it is not always necessary to remove the breast.
There are two main categories of breast cancers:
- Noninvasive cancers, also called in situ, are found only in breast ducts and lobules
- Invasive cancers start in the duct or lobules then spread into surrounding breast tissue. It may become metastatic breast cancer if it spreads to other organs like the lungs, bones, liver and brain.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 57,650 new cases of noninvasive breast cancer (carcinoma in situ) will be diagnosed in women in 2011.
The first sign of breast cancer is often a painless lump. But early breast cancer is often found on a mammogram before a lump can be felt.
Other symptoms of breast cancer may not appear until the cancer is more advanced. These include:
- A thickening in the breast or armpit
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Changes in the skin of the breast, such as a dimple or skin that looks like an orange peel
- A change in the nipple, such as scaling of the skin or a nipple that turns in
- A green or bloody fluid that comes from the nipple
- A change in the color or feel of the skin around the nipple (areola)
About 1% of breast cancer occurs in men. Although most men diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 65, the disease can appear in younger men. For this reason, any breast lump in an adult male is considered abnormal.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a specific type of breast cancer that involves the skin of the breast. It occurs when breast cancer cells form "nests" and block the lymphatic drainage from the skin of the breast. Symptoms include redness, tenderness, and warmth. Thickening of the skin of the breast (an orange-peel appearance), rapid breast enlargement, and ridging of the skin of the breast may also be present. Some women may also develop a lump in the breast.
See diagrams of breast cancer
Learn how breast cancer is classified
Causes and Risk Factors
Doctors do not know exactly what causes breast cancer. But some things are known to increase your risk:
- Being a woman
- Getting older
- Gene changes
- Your race and ethnicity. White women have a slightly higher risk for getting breast cancer than African-American women. Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women have even less risk.
- Having a history of radiation treatment to the chest
There are also risk factors that you may be able to change. These are risk factors related to your lifestyle, such as:
- Using hormone therapy after menopause
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight or obese
- Not breast-feeding
- Not having children, or not having children until after age 30
- Drinking alcohol beverages
But many women who have risk factors do not get breast cancer. And many women who get breast cancer do not have any known risk factors other than being female and getting older.
Early Screening & Prevention
The earlier breast cancer is found, the more easily and successfully it can be treated. The most common methods for detecting breast cancer include:
- Mammogram: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It can often find tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Your doctor may suggest that you have a screening mammogram, especially if you have any risk factors for breast cancer.
- Breast Self Exam (BSE) - Involves checking your breasts to help detect breast problems or changes. Many breast problems are first discovered by women themselves, often by accident. These exams should be routinely performed monthly.
- Clinical Breast Exam (CBE): During a clinical breast exam, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Breast: MRI is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to provide pictures of the inside of the breast. It may be used as a screening test for women at high risk. It may be more sensitive than a mammogram for finding breast cancer. But MRI also finds small irregularities that can lead to further testing but turn out to not be breast cancer.
Talk to your doctor about an MRI if you have risk factors for breast cancer. These can include a positive test for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or having two or more close family members who have had breast cancer before age 50.
If your doctor thinks that you have breast cancer, you may have other tests, including:
- Mammogram: If you have not already had one.
- Ultrasound: You may have an ultrasound of the breast if a lump is found during a clinical breast exam or on a mammogram. Breast ultrasound is often used to distinguish between solid lumps and fluid-filled (cystic) lumps.
- MRI of the breast: Which is sometimes used to get more information about a breast lump or to evaluate problems in women who have breast implants. MRI of the breast may be most useful for very high-risk women, such as those who test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or have two or more close family members who have had breast cancer before age 50. MRI may also be used to evaluate the opposite breast in women diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Breast Biopsy. If a lump is found in your breast, your doctor will need to remove a small sample of the lump (biopsy) and look at it under a microscope to see whether any cancer cells are present. A needle biopsy is done by inserting a needle into the breast and removing some of the tissue.
- Lymph Node Biopsy: Decide whether breast cancer cells have spread to the axillary lymph nodes under the arm.
- Tumor Markers Test: Which are usually done on tissue from a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): Provides important information about the kinds and numbers of cells in your blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- Chemistry Screen: Measures the levels of several substances (such as those involved in liver functions) in your blood.
- Chest X-ray: Provides a picture of organs and structures within your chest, including your heart and lungs, your blood vessels, and the thin sheet of muscle just below your lungs (diaphragm).
If your doctor thinks that breast cancer may have spread to other organs in your body (metastasized), he or she may order additional testing, including a:
- CT scan to provide detailed pictures of the organs and structures in your chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
- Bone scan to detect cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the bones.
- CT scan or MRI of the brain to provide detailed pictures of your brain and to check for cancer that may have spread to your brain.
Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, doctors perform tests to determine the stage of the cancer. Staging is the process of determining the size of the tumor and whether it has spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. Doctors use a cancer’s stage as a key factor in making treatment recommendations and estimating the patient’s chance for recovery.
Learn more about breast cancer.
After diagnosis and staging, you and your doctor will work together to determine the best treatment options for you. You will also meet with a nurse navigator to help guide you through the process and to answer any questions you have. They are a crucial part of your team; your point guard, in essence. They can connect you with financial information, education and resources as well as provide emotional support on your healing journey.
MultiCare Offers New Savi™ Five-Day Breast Cancer Treatment
MultiCare Regional Cancer Center at Tacoma General Hospital is one of the first facilities in the Pacific Northwest to offer a more individualized treatment for early-stage breast cancer. This sophisticated new radiation treatment is delivered in a short, five-day course and also allows physicians to tailor radiation that can potentially reduce side effects.
Surgery may be one element of the treatment process. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor. If your doctors feel they are able to perform breast-conserving surgery without compromising your health, a lumpectomy may be an option.
Your doctor may recommend one or two forms of radiation therapy – external or internal – to eliminate any cancerous cells in your body. External therapy is administered using high-energy x-ray beams that focus on the breast in the area of the tumor. Over time, treatment destroys or weakens the cancer cells so they cannot reproduce.
The SAVI™ Five-Day breast cancer treatment option is a sophisticated new radiation treatment offers a more individualized five-day course of radiation treatment for early-stage breast cancer. The majority of women who qualify for partial breast radiation can be treated with this treatment.
If your breast cancer treatment requires internal radiation, you may be a candidate for MammoSite RTS. This approach to radiation therapy, which delivers a concentrated dose of radiation to the tumor via a catheter, can be completed in as little as five days.
Chemotherapy drugs are designed interfere with the rapidly dividing cancer cells in your body. Your doctors may suggest chemotherapy as form of breast cancer treatment before or after surgery.
Chemotherapy is usually administered intravenously (through the vein) or orally in the form of pills. Your doctor may recommend additional medications to help alleviate chemotherapy-related side effects.
Targeted Drug Therapy
If your tumor is hormone-responsive, your doctors may consider hormone therapy as part of your breast cancer treatment plan. The goal of hormone therapy treatment is to prevent estrogen from stimulating the growth of any cancer cells that may have moved away from the tumor to other parts of the body or at the tumor site itself.
Supportive and Integrative Therapies
In addition to the therapies described above, we offer integrative therapies such as nutritional therapy, physical therapy, yoga, massage and emotional counseling. Many of these therapies are remarkably effective in addressing the side effects of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation by easing tension, reducing pain and improving quality of life.
We also offer personalized services through Healthy Reflections Boutique including: wigs, scarves, doctor-prescribed skin care products and make-up, custom-fitted bras, breast forms and lymphedema products.
Healthy Reflections Boutique offers a wide variety of women's health care items to enhance your physical and mental well-being.
Do you have a loved one with breast cancer and want to help support her but not where sure where to start?
Join the Helping Her Heal study program conducted by the University of Washington's School of Nursing, aimed at providing spouses/partners of breast cancer patients with the tools needed to deal with the impact of breast cancer in your every day lives.
The University of Washington is enlisting patients for this study that are within 6 months of their first diagnosis of breast cancer, dealing with their significant others/husbands. Patients must live in the Puget Sound area and speak and read English.
For more information, contact Mary Ellen Shands, RN, MN, at 206-685-0837, or visit the Helping Her Heal website.
*Study is free of charge to individuals and others/spouses. MultiCare Regional Cancer Center can aide in the referral process, or patients can choose to self-refer.