Each day in my office, I see the sheer panic on the faces of women diagnosed with breast cancer. The statistics are astounding. According to the American Breast Cancer Society, the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer during her life is about one in eight. A growing number of the women I meet think mastectomy is their only option in the face of a diagnosis. But often it's not.
As a physician, part of my job is to educate women and their families on the treatment that best fits their lifestyle. Results from a survey by The BC5 Project, a consortium of companies dedicated to educating women about their treatment options after a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer, showed that one-third of women polled were presented with only one treatment option from their doctor. Further, only 27 percent sought a second opinion on their diagnosis or treatment.
During National Women's Health Week (May 11-17), I want to encourage women who are diagnosed to empower themselves by finding out everything they can about breast cancer treatment. Patients need to know the recurrence rates of one treatment versus another, the side effects both during and after, and the length of treatment. For example, the majority of women I meet are unaware of breast brachytherapy, a radiation therapy that targets only the affected part of the breast. Treatment takes place twice a day for five days, making it a much more convenient option for many women. This particular treatment is effective, yet unfortunately underutilized. In fact, The BC5 Project survey showed that less than 7 percent of women were offered breast brachytherapy as an option, but more than half would have liked to know about it.
There are subtleties in treatment, and it's vital for women to ask questions about their choices and seek second opinions. It takes a strong team to treat breast cancer, so collaboration between doctors is key. Finding a group of medical professionals who work well together is crucial for success.
Women need to empower themselves, take control of the situation and understand there are many different treatment options. I encourage women to talk to breast cancer survivors, research online and push their physicians. I want women to own the treatment decision.
Dr. Catheryn Yashar
Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology
University of California San Diego