Jenster's Musings

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Getting the Word Out

Whymommy at Toddler Planet has a message to share. She's a young wife and mother who was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer when her infant stopped nursing on one side. There was no lump and it appeared to be mastitis. Instead it was the very sneakiest form of breast cancer. But I'll let her tell you about it:

We hear a lot about breast cancer these days. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, and there are millions living with it in the U.S. today alone. But did you know that there is more than one type of breast cancer?

I didn’t. I thought that breast cancer was all the same. I figured that if I did my monthly breast self-exams, and found no lump, I’d be fine.

Oops. It turns out that you don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer. Six weeks ago, I went to my OB/GYN because my breast felt funny. It was red, hot, inflamed, and the skin looked…funny. But there was no lump, so I wasn’t worried. I should have been. After a round of antibiotics didn’t clear up the inflammation, my doctor sent me to a breast specialist and did a skin punch biopsy. That test showed that I have inflammatory breast cancer, a very aggressive cancer that can be deadly.

Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis because many doctors have never seen it before and consider it rare. “Rare” or not, there are over 100,000 women in the U.S. with this cancer right now; only half will survive five years. Please call your OB/GYN if you experience several of the following symptoms in your breast, or any unusual changes: redness, rapid increase in size of one breast, persistent itching of breast or nipple, thickening of breast tissue, stabbing pain, soreness, swelling under the arm, dimpling or ridging (for example, when you take your bra off, the bra marks stay – for a while), flattening or retracting of the nipple, or a texture that looks or feels like an orange (called peau d’orange). Ask if your GYN is familiar with inflammatory breast cancer, and tell her that you’re concerned and want to come in to rule it out.

There is more than one kind of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is the most aggressive form of breast cancer out there, and early detection is critical. It’s not usually detected by mammogram. It does not usually present with a lump. It may be overlooked with all of the changes that our breasts undergo during the years when we’re pregnant and/or nursing our little ones. It’s important not to miss this one.

Inflammatory breast cancer is detected by women and their doctors who notice a change in one of their breasts. If you notice a change, call your doctor today. Tell her about it. Tell her that you have a friend with this disease, and it’s trying to kill her. Now you know what I wish I had known before six weeks ago.

You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.

A couple other misconceptions that need to be addressed are these:

I’m too young for breast cancer.

If you’re old enough to have breasts then you’re old enough to get breast cancer. According to The American Cancer Society (ACS) more than 11,100 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than 1,100 will die from it.

I have no family history of breast cancer so I have nothing to worry about.

Another ACS statistic states 80% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women without a family history.
Because there is no good screening for women under 40 it's very important to do your own screening. The Young Survivor Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to the concerns and issues of young women and breast cancer, has this to say:

The best tool for young women to find breast cancer early is to become familiar with their breasts: their shape, size, and what they feel like. Learn what is normal for you. Sometimes your breasts may change throughout your monthly cycle. If you are pregnant or nursing, your breasts will change even more dramatically. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor immediately and insist on a diagnosis. Also, beginning at age 20, have a yearly breast exam by a doctor. Start mammograms beginning at age 40.

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