In 2009, doctors will diagnose an estimated 192,370 cases of breast cancer.
But the chances of survival have never been better, especially for women with advanced cancer.
What makes breast cancer “advanced”? Simply put, advanced breast cancer has spread beyond the breasts and their lymph nodes. In metastatic breast cancer, the most advanced form, cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, like the organs, bones, lungs or liver, where they continue to reproduce.
Though difficult to treat in the past, medical advances are helping doctors treat advanced breast cancer. For example, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) provides each patient with a personalized cancer treatment plan, which may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery and radiation integrated with complementary medicine like mind-body medicine, naturopathy and nutrition.
In response to studies indicating that low levels of vitamin D have been associated with higher tumor grade and shorter disease-free survival, CTCA employs nutritionists to actively monitor and document vitamin D in all breast cancer patients. While exposure to sunlight and foods, like fortified milk products, can provide some vitamin D, few people meet their daily requirements. For this reason, CTCA recommends supplements.
Of course, treating patients isn’t just about fighting cancer, but also about maintaining quality of life. Women who need surgery can now opt for oncoplastic surgery, which removes the tumor and reconstructs the breast in one procedure. Fewer surgeries mean less stress on patients.
“Personalized cancer medicine is becoming very much a modern concept,” says Dennis Citrin, MD, a medical oncologist at CTCA. “Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease. It’s not a single disease where one treatment fits all,” he adds.
Additionally, genetic technology can help protect cancer patients’ families. Two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, cause most hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. If a cancer patient finds out that she has a gene that causes cancer, she can tell her family members to get tested. Although patients with advanced cancer have better chances today than ever before, survival rates are still highest for those who detect breast cancer in its early stages.