Published on November 10, 2022
Read Time: 4 Minutes
Christopher Spencer, MD, MS, DABR, medical director of radiation oncology and a radiation oncologist at the Phelps Health Delbert Day Cancer Institute (DDCI), answers frequently asked questions about breast cancer.
How common is breast cancer in the US? And in Phelps County?
Breast cancer affects about one in eight women over the course of their lives. If you do the math, that calculates to 250,000-plus cases that are diagnosed every year in the United States. The incidence of breast cancer in Phelps County is about the same as the incidence everywhere else in the US. We analyzed our data recently and found that we actually diagnose more stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancers at the DDCI than our peers elsewhere in the country. We're proud of that. And I think that also means the women in this area take screening seriously.
Can you talk about breast cancer survival rates?
All of the treatment after diagnosis is tailored to the individual's specific cancer, so the stage, the actual biology and molecular profile of the cancer is all taken into consideration. Survival rates can vary widely, as you can imagine with different cancers. Survival rate is defined by how many women are alive at 5 years or at 10 years after diagnosis and treatment. When you catch breast cancer in stage 0 or stage 1, that number is exceptionally high – greater than 90% of women are alive and free of cancer at 5 and 10 years.
When you get to stages 2 and 3, the percentage goes down slightly. We are optimistic, however. Our team is seeing better and better outcomes with the advanced stages every year, likely due to new targeted therapies we have available at the DDCI.
Unfortunately, there are some cancers that have progressed or are diagnosed in later stages, that are more difficult or not possible to cure. But, we have several new therapies out there that can keep the cancer under control for a long period of time and give people an excellent quality of life, even if they're living with a cancer diagnosis.
To recap: the earlier the stage, the higher the survival rate.
Can men get breast cancer?
Men can get breast cancer, but breast cancer in men is exceptionally rare. Women have significantly more breast tissue than men do, and women’s hormone levels are different. Breast cancer is most often related to the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone, hormones that are a lot lower in men's bodies. Therefore, the risk of a man getting breast cancer is really low. At the DDCI, we might see one case of breast cancer in a man per year, so it’s rare.
Can breast cancer patients be treated in Rolla, at the Delbert Day Cancer Institute?
Yes, we offer a comprehensive breast cancer program at the DDCI. We offer all of the following procedures here in-house: screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, stereotactic or ultrasound-guided biopsies, breast MRIs and breast surgeries. The DDCI has three experienced and well-qualified surgeons on staff who perform breast surgery. We also have multiple medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to see women through their journey after surgery. We are happy to offer these services in Rolla.
We also partner with Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and are part of the Siteman Cancer Network. If we think patients do need a higher level of care than what we can provide, we work with the physicians at Washington University and Siteman to ensure patients are receiving the care that they need.
Does the DDCI offer clinical trials?
Yes, the DDCI offers clinical trials. In our clinical trials network, I’m proud to say that we're one of the highest enrolling institutions in south-central Missouri. We have two full-time team members who do nothing but screen and monitor patients who are on clinical trials. In fact, every patient who comes into the cancer center is screened for clinical trials.
If a patient is a candidate for an open trial, one of their physicians will talk to them about the risks and benefits of therapy on a clinical trial versus what we call “standard of care therapy.”
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