Treating breast cancer

A Mammography Technologist assists a patient preparing for an exam.

Treating breast cancer is never a simple fix. There are as many methods and strategies as there are people sick with the disease. Other than a dear friend of mine who had a double mastectomy a couple of years ago, the closest to home the words “breast cancer treatment” come for me is a memory from the mid-’80s when I was in nursing school. One of my patients was so ill from chemotherapy she could keep nothing down, and I watched her suffer horribly with constant nausea as she wasted away to a skeletal shape.

Although chemotherapy is still part of many people’s treatment these days, it is more often combined with other kinds of therapy in a multi-modal approach. A combination of radiation, surgery, and hormonal therapy and other medicines is tailored to each individual according to the results of the pathology report.

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Knowledge is power. In an effort to inform patients of the options, Benedictine Hospital has scheduled a series of informative presentations. Thursday, Oct. 18, Dr. Richard McNally, director of pathology, outlined the various types of breast cancer for an audience of patients, supporters and others.

At the event, called “Reading Your Pathology Report and How it Influences Treatment Outcomes,” McNally presented large pastel-colored slides of enlarged cells. His in-depth lecture described the elements of the pathology report: clinical information, gross description, diagnosis and microscopic description. He explained how breast cancer can be in situ (non-spreading) or invasive, and how its location can be ductal (85 percent) or lobular (15 percent). He showed examples of cross-sections of ducts with invasive cancers, explained Nottingham grades and showed scary-looking dark opaque mitoses, cells that are dividing with a higher index, with aggressive behavior.

Afterwards, a panel answered audience questions. It included Dr. McNally and Zoë Weinstein, M.D., a breast surgeon; Alfonso Cutugno, M.D., a medical oncologist; and Camilo Torres, M.D., a radiation oncologist. Barbara Sarah, the founder of the hospital’s cancer support group, was on hand as well. The event was moderated by oncology social worker Ellen Marshall.

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