Published: Sunday, 10 November 2013 23:41
Written by Adrienne C.
In this day and age, we all worry about something. Those of us who visit this site regularly might fear breast cancer, the return of breast cancer, or even if we can survive breast cancer. It’s no secret that fear, and the stress it causes, can in itself make us ill. I truly believe that. Each time I’ve become seriously ill (including with breast cancer), each illness was immediately preceded by an unrelenting series of high stress factors and some form of physical injury.
According to researchers, many factors contribute to the onset of cancer. High on the list are such items as exposure to carcinogenic agents, behavioral risk factors, compromised immune systems… and stress. Studies prove that the stressors most strongly associated with breast cancer are caused by major life events such as the death of a spouse/close relative, loss of a job, divorce or separation, and personal injury/illness. Stress can also increase the risk of recurrence or reduce the outcome of treatment. I didn’t get “it” until after my breast cancer treatment. Then I started with stress management counseling which ultimately enabled me to put situations and people into perspective and eliminate certain stress inducers from my life. OK, it didn’t happen overnight, but into the second year I finally began to see the light.
All of us who have had a cancer, face the “what if” anxiety stressor and so do our spouses, partners, or family. Anyone who has not confronted a life threatening illness may be confused as to why we continue to worry. “You’ve been treated and you’re OK. What are you worrying about?” Something very real is the answer.
Dr. Laura Dunn, professor of Psychiatry and Director of Psycho-Oncology at the University of California SF says “that although cancer is increasingly labeled a chronic illness, it’s different from arthritis in that it’s more of a chronic threat.” Some of us are more adept at handling threats than others, but with breast cancer, “no one can ever guarantee you a cancer- free survival.” However, if you can put it in perspective, it can be viewed as a bump in the road of life.
The article Chronic Stress: The Hidden Health Risks in the Huffington Post, states that stress causes a chemical cascade that impedes the delicate dance of chemicals that keep the body functioning smoothly.
The statistical info on the risk of getting breast cancer is pervasive, but what exactly do all those numbers mean? Should they be included in our stress bucket? Do the percentages mean something important to us as individuals? A statistical risk is a probability, or chance that something can occur. So the glass can be either half full or half empty.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two different types of risk: Absolute Risk and Relative Risk.
“Absolute risk refers to the actual numeric chance or probability (percentage) of developing cancer within a specified time period, like a lifetime risk at a given age.”
“Relative risk gives you a comparison or ratio rather than an absolute value. It shows the strength of the relationship between a risk factor or a particular type of cancer, by comparing the number of cancers in a group of people who have a particular exposure trait with the number of cancers in a group of people who don’t have that trait.”
How then do risk statistics relate to us? Again according to the Mayo Clinic, “Cancer is highly individualistic. You can have two people the same age, sex, race, socioeconomic status and comparative lifestyles and still have totally different disease experiences.”
The trick is to weigh what you hear and pay attention to what you might be able to change in your life to protect your health, and put the rest on the back burner.
So, to return to the beginning… besides the threat of breast cancer, we worry about other things such as: food additives, molds, chemicals in cleaning ingredients/cosmetics/clothing /furniture, the pesticides in nearly everything, what’s lurking in our seemingly clean bathrooms, dust bunnies that appear out of nowhere two days after we’ve vacuumed/run around with dust cloths, and related to this site - mammograms. But are these fears justified? Sometimes our concerns are focused on very improbable things.
We tend to have high fears over things that are relatively low risk and low fears about relatively high risk factors. Relative to this site – an example of a high fear with relatively low risk item would be mammograms. The risk that most people (including me) fear with yearly mammography is cancer from the radiation. According to the Mayo Clinic, radiation from the new mammogram machines is very, very low and not a risk factor.
On the other hand, listed below are common examples of low fear with relatively high risk things that you can and should do something about:·
Stress is something we create. Ultimately, we decide what’s stressful, what is not, and how much we are willing to tolerate. The higher your tolerance for stress, the more physical damage stress can accumulate over time. On the other hand if we watch for the bumps in life’s road and slow down as we approach them, we’ll be able to take those bumps in stride and continue on as far as we can imagine.
- Tobacco Use
- Lack of Exercise
- Poor Diet
- Accidents in the Home
- Cell Phone Use While Driving (The National Safety Council reports that 1 in 4 accidents is related to cell phone distraction, and that the actual percentage is most likely much higher.)
- Indoor Air Pollution
- Antibiotic Resistance
- Pesticide Use
Published: Wednesday, 07 August 2013 21:58
Written by Adrienne C.
Breast density is an issue that most of us never think about until it comes time to experience a mammogram...then it's a hot topic. I never had any problems when I was younger, but after my lumpectomy, I must admit that I dread those tests. Actually, the only mammogram I've had since my surgery that wasn't painful, was one I had in April on new equipment (not 3D Tomosynthesis) at The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Maybe it was the equipment, maybe it was the technician, but I was both surprised and pleased that my scar tissue wasn't tortured.
I started having mammograms around the age of 42, when my mother, who like me had dense breast tissue, was diagnosed with breast cancer. While the tests didn't bother me at all, they were excruciatingly painful for her. So much so, that after her five years of Tamoxifen and the five mandatory yearly mammograms concluded, she refused to have another one. Thankfully for my mother, the cancer never returned, but any logical person would question if that was a wise decision. She was lucky, but did she make a sound choice? Her prediciment motivated me to possibly uncover what other, perhaps less painful, forms of testing might be available. Back in 2006-2007 there were two other readily available choices - Thermography and MRI.
Everyone knows about mammography and MRI’s but thermography is a bit more obscure. The theory of thermography is simple. According to the American Cancer Society report Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Procedures (2010), thermography is a way to measure and map the heat on the surface of the body (in this case a breast) using a special heat-sensing camera. It's based on the concept that the temperature rises in areas with increased blood flow and metabolism. Translation: cancer and precancerous cells emit more heat, so thermography uses heat to detect an inflammation or cancer. Sounds logical. It doesn't compress your breasts, so it doesn't hurt. Sounds good. It doesn't involve radiation, so there's no chance of tissue damage. Sounds wonderful.
I couldn't afford to have an MRI that was not covered by my insurance policy which eliminated that testing option. In February 2007 I decided to pit a thermogram against a mammogram. Definitely not the normal route, but I'm analytical by nature.
In mid-February, my thermogram was clean - no cancer. Two weeks later, my mammogram revealed DCIS. Up to that point, I had never had a suspicious result from a mammogram (which I would have every 2-3 years). Given the diagnosis, the insurance company would now cover the third testing option: an MRI. The MRI ultimately confirmed the mammogram diagnosis. Yes, I had DCIS. Not exactly the result I wanted to hear but it did prove what I had learned in every science class I had ever taken - check, double check, and triple check your results before you believe your results or postulate a theory.
If I had cancer, why didn't the thermogram detect it? Was the equipment faulty? Was the technician not properly trained? Was the room not the right temperature (between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit)? Was it simply unable to detect and display a small, deep tumor?
I brought all of the test results to my surgeon and he showed me - on the images - where the mammogram and MRI displayed the cancer and the thermogram did not…a false negative.
Perhaps in time my body would have destroyed the cancer, as it's supposed to. But I was under considerable stress at that point in my life. My guess is that stress = an environment for illness, not one for spontaneous cures. There is always the chance that had I not treated the cancer, I would not be here to post a blog entry about my experiences.
If like me, you decide to experiment, it might be a good idea to use the National Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool to determine your risk of getting invasive cancer, and along with your doctor, factor those results into your decision-making process. For my money, the most effective route is to use all the tools available (perhaps not every year) rather than relying on just one. Doing nothing, like my mother did is an extremely chancy route. She was lucky, but in my books, betting your life on luck is a bad strategy.
News update: Mammography can sometimes give incorrect results (false positive/false negative). In the case of dense breast tissue, the test can apparently be less than adequate. While mammography detects 98% of the cancers in women with fatty breasts, it fails to see about half of the cancers present in women with dense breasts.
On July 1, 2012, a new VA law went into effect making it mandatory for all doctors and testing facilities to tell any woman with dense breasts that the condition can interfere with the effectiveness of a mammogram. It also requires doctors and providing facilities to advise their patients that ultrasound or MRI might yield better test results. Maybe now, insurance companies will be required to cover alternative breast cancer tests.
The law was modeled after existing laws in CA and NY. Additional states with similar laws in place are: OR, NV, TX, AL, CT, TN, MD, HI, and TX. States in the process of drafting their versions to enact: IA, UT, OH, MN, PA, NJ, MA, ME, SC, GA, FL.
On July 1, 2013, an updated amendment to the VA law went into effect. Language in the Virginia law has been changed from: "Your mammogram demonstrates that you may have dense breast tissue," to "Your mammogram demonstrates that you have dense breast tissue." The original law also made no mention of breast density as an independent risk factor. The amended law informs a patient that density "May also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer."