The Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Book

October 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm

When breast cancer strikes, priorities change and decisions must be made. Where can compassionate, reliable, and easy-to-comprehend information be found? The Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Book offers guidance to help you understand the basics of cancer, make informed decisions about medical care, and cope with the physical and emotional effects of cancer treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common and serious cancer to affect women. Each year in the United States more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is that deaths from this disease are declining, mostly due to ongoing research and continued advances in diagnosis and treatment.

The Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Book is divided into three sections: 1) Overview of what breast cancer is, how it develops, and how it spreads;  2) Comprehensive discussion of all aspects of the disease from risk and prevention to the latest information in diagnosis and treatment;  3) Strategies for dealing with emotional, social, spiritual, and physical challenges that accompany cancer treatment and survival. Key facts about ovarian and uterine cancer are also included, because they are more common in breast cancer survivors.

Patient stories, shared throughout the book, add comfort that you’re not alone on your journey. Others have been through this difficult experience and the stories give support, advice, and understanding as you learn a new medical language, meet your treatment team, and become tuned to cancer research and survival statistics.

In the first chapter, Mary’s story describes her diagnosis, treatment choices, and dealing with loss. She also talks about the courage and strength of those that she has known with cancer. They provided her with a continuous source of hope and inspiration during anxious times. “If others can get through it with grace, then so can I.”

Cancer is not a single disease, but a group of related diseases that begin in cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them in an orderly process that keeps the body healthy and functioning. However, cancer results from a loss of control of normal cell growth, characterized by the overgrowth of abnormal cells.

Exact causes of many cancers are unknown. A likely scenario is a complex interplay of external and internal factors, rather than a single cause. Identifying risk factors may point to possible causes of cancer but don’t mean that you will definitely develop cancer. Risk factors include age, family history, tobacco use, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, radiation exposure, excessive alcohol use, hormone use after menopause, exposure to certain chemicals, race, reproductive and sexual behaviors, socio-economic status, and certain health conditions.

Basic research, epidemiologic studies looking at patterns and trends in cancer frequency, and clinical trials are also described. A visual guide to cancer biology and cancer stages are included, as well as possible treatment options, such as surgery, radiation and drug therapy.

A screening guide offers an overview of the latest recommendations and where most organizations stand on screening. The general agreement is that women in their 20s and 30s are at average risk and that a breast self-exam is optional, no mammogram recommended, and a clinical breast exam may be performed every three years.

There is some disagreement regarding the recommendations that women, ages 40 to 74, conduct an optional breast self-exam, that a clinical breast exam be performed annually as part of a general physical, along with an annual mammogram. Mammogram images are included in this section to illustrate how detection of tumors can be difficult.

Rosemary’s story describes her decision to have a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. After treatment, sometimes she couldn’t touch her chest because of pain and other days, she doesn’t feel a thing. Being in a support group has helped her a lot. When she gets an ache or pain, chances are when she checks with the group, someone else has had the same thing. Then she doesn’t feel that she has to worry.

Since she has passed the five-year mark, Rosemary only sees her oncologist once a year. She hasn’t forgotten that she has cancer and is aware that it could come back, but she doesn’t let things bother her. She is appreciating life more. “I look at all the things that make me happy, and whatever makes me happy, I do.”

In the chapter “Life After a Cancer Diagnosis – Survivorship,” you learn how to move forward, from managing your fears, reconnecting with old routines, enjoying relationships to helping others. Taking care of your health covers how to eat well, stay physically active, maintain a healthy weight, get adequate sleep and rest, and continue with follow-up care.

Partners of women with breast cancer have their own concerns. This intensely, emotional time can make you both feel vulnerable and bring out the positive and negative aspects of your relationship and personalities. There will be good and bad days. Your partner can benefit from your support, but at the same time, you have to take care of your own needs. The chapter written for partners addresses some of these common concerns and offers encouragement and guidance.

Karen’s story offers advice to cancer survivors to get as much information as possible, stay positive, and trust your instincts. She also understands how precious life is and how important relationships are. Karen realized throughout this process that she developed an immediate bond with other cancer survivors and how much she had to share.

“And I think that’s precious – that cancer, this terrible disease, has given me an amazing link to so many women, from many walks of life.”

Debbie Fuehrer, LPCC
Coordinator/Counselor — Mind Body Medicine
General Internal Medicine

Entry filed under: Book Notes.

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