BOISE -- Having breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Women are now surviving it.
According to the Komen Foundation Idaho affiliate, the five-year survival rate for Idaho women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer was 74 percent in 1980. Today, 98 percent of Idaho women are beating breast cancer when it's detected early. That means there's more hope for survivors like never before.
Mammograms and self-exams are a woman’s best defense when it comes to fighting breast cancer. But, what about fighting cancer once you’ve got it?
There's some exciting news for those facing a fight with the disease. It has to do with breakthroughs in breast cancer treatment.
- Now when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she may find that less surgery will be required than in years past.
- She could get targeted therapy to hone right in on the tumor.
- She now may get what is considered “personalized treatment.” Not the one size fits all treatment that many may have had to endure just a couple of years ago.
Boise surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Prier says the trend toward less surgery has to do with the lymph nodes. Women have 15 to 30 of them in their armpits.
In the past, if one was found to be cancerous, all were taken out; however that is no longer the case.
"At the time of surgery, you do a procedure called a central node biopsy, and what it does is help us isolate which one or two or three lymph nodes has direct communication with the breast. And the idea is that that would be the first lymph nodes to pick up any tumor cells when they might spread from the breast. And so we only target those one or two lymph nodes initially," said Prier.
Doctors have found the medicine, Herceptin, can do wonders with certain tumors.
"If it’s metastatic, you can sometimes make the metastasis go away. Certainly if it’s locally advanced or large at the time of diagnosis, you can really shrink the tumor,” said Prier. “So it’s enabled us to have a tumor that in the past hasn't been able to be treated very well can now be significantly reduced and well controlled for years. It’s made a major impact.”
Another major development in the past five to 10 years has been the trend toward personalized treatment. This gives doctors the ability, in some cases, to figure out the genetic make-up of a tumor.
“So instead of giving chemotherapy to everybody that may have a positive lymph node or tumor, we are now looking at the gene profile in the tumor and personalizing the treatment, so that it’s really going to be effective,” said Prier. “Again, the quality of life is improved because now not everybody needs chemotherapy that we might have traditionally given chemotherapy for.”
On a related note, the Boise Race for the Cure has grown over the last decade and a half, increasing several thousand entries every year. The race is a major fundraiser that helps to battle cancer in the Gem State.
Your entry or donation will help keep the fight alive. To sign up, donate online, or get more information, check out our 2013 Race for the Cure event guide.