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Targeting Cancer: Sorting breast cancer facts from fiction

(Photo by Stacia Pugh)

Stacia Pugh will never forget the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was two weeks after my 39th birthday, and I was just not expecting that. It was eye-opening and shocking,” she says.

The single mother of two from Corvallis was filled with worry, for herself and her kids, but she knew she had to deal with it head-on.

“Once I found out I had cancer, my goal was ‘How are we going to cure this? How am I going to beat this?’”

Understanding breast cancer

When breast cancer is caught early, five-year survival rate is 99-percent, according to the American Cancer Society. But breast cancer is not just one specific disease; it’s many different diseases, so it requires an individualized treatment plan.

“About 1 in 9 women will have breast cancer effect their life in some way,” says Willamette Valley Cancer Institute medical oncologist Dr. Keith Wells. “Each individual’s breast cancer is different and it affects them in different ways. Where the breast cancer is located, where it has spread, how big it is—all that plays a role in the different treatment options available.”

Breast cancer is often treated with surgery, as well as chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy or a combination of those treatments.

“When breast cancers are evaluated in the pathology lab, certain stains are added to them to look for the estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor, as well as a receptor called HER2,” says Dr. Wells. “How a patient’s breast cancer expresses those proteins, determines which treatment we can offer them.”

Researchers are consistently working to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer and to improve the quality of life of patients and survivors.

Separating fact from myth

When it comes to breast cancer, there’s a lot of mistruths. Does wearing deodorant or an underwire bra cause breast cancer? Could using a cell phone increase your risk of getting the disease? If you have a family history of the disease, does that mean you’re sure to be diagnosed, too?

With all the information swirling online, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what is true and false. It’s good to be aware of these 10 common myths about breast cancer.

Lowering your risk

Dr. Wells says women and men can take charge of their health by performing routine breast self-exams and reporting anything abnormal to their doctor.

Talk with your health care provider about when you should begin routine mammograms. You may be advised to start screenings sooner if you have a family history of the disease.

“If we detect a breast cancer early, we can treat it better,” Dr. Wells says.

Accessing resources

Stacia’s treatment included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. What helped her cope physically and emotionally during treatment was connecting with a mentor through Project H.E.R. in Corvallis and attending a young cancer survivors support group. For more information on resources, click here.

Stacia has been cancer-free for nearly three years, and she’s learned some important lessons since her diagnosis.

“Advocate for yourself. Trust the process. Take one day at a time and celebrate the milestones,” she says. “Cancer taught me how strong I am and that it’s going to take a lot more than this to knock me down.”

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