Sneak Peak: Breast Cancer and Bridging the Gap

by Columbia Surgery on December 4, 2013

Bridging the GapOn Saturday December 7th, Columbia University Department of Surgery is hosting its annual breast cancer awareness event, Bridging the Gap: Enhancing Breast Cancer Prevention, Screening and Wellness. We spoke with Preya Ananthakrishnan, MD, one of the key members of the planning committee, for a sneak preview about what we can expect at this year’s event.

The event focuses on “living well and survivorship.”  What does this mean?

My team and I understand “living well” as meaning more than just your physical well being – it’s about nourishing your mental well being as well. It combines a variety of factors including diet, nutrition, and exercise to leading a happy life and having a positive outlook. We try to foster these ideals through the physicians’ lectures as well as through our patient testimonials, in which they speak about their own experience. After all, they are our best examples of living well and survivorship. Overall, if our attendees leave with one message, we hope it is: be educated, make good choices, but always remember to enjoy life.

Another goal of the event is to help promote breast cancer awareness among minority communities. Why is it important to raise awareness of breast cancer in minority communities?

179695267Currently, breast cancer is the most common cancer in African American women. Statistics have shown that African American women have a higher incidence at younger ages and higher mortality rates in every age demographic. Through events like this one, we are trying to reverse this trend.

Our hope is that through teaching about risk factors, early detection, and treatment options, we can help empower women not only to better themselves but also to spread what they’ve learned among their community and family. We encourage that community feeling by making it fun and social. Our speakers and attendees are a very lively group, and we are all eager to help one another in the fight against breast cancer. We are a stronger force to help raise awareness together.

It has been almost a year since Angelina Jolie had a preventive double mastectomy. What changes have you seen in your practice due to the increased awareness of the BRCA gene and genetic screening for breast cancer? How will this be discussed at this year’s conference?

By sharing her story, Angelina Jolie has dramatically helped increase awareness of familial genetic syndromes – not just of the BRCA genes but also of other genetic mutations that correlate with increased cancer risk as well. Today, many patients with strong family histories of breast cancer are interested in receiving genetic testing to help better assess their personal risk. In addition, more patients are becoming more proactive with reducing their risk. Especially among younger patients, we are finding that many women diagnosed with breast cancer are opting for bilateral mastectomies to remove both the affected and non-affected breasts and reduce the chance of recurrence and to reduce the risk of developing a new primary cancer in the future.

Believing you may be at an increased risk for breast cancer can be a scary situation to navigate. We hope this event can provide a good stepping point to your journey. At this year’s conference, we will provide more information about genetic testing and who should consider it. We will also discuss the most recent advances in surgery, such as nipple-sparing mastectomy, and the new options they afford patients. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Christine Rohde, will also be highlighting advances in breast reconstruction.

What are some of the newest imaging and treatment options available to patients?

An overarching theme of this year’s conference is individualized treatment. No two patients are alike, and it is important that we tailor treatments. We are excited to be discussing some new treatment options and detection tests that will help us provide individualized treatment, such as:

    • Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) – IORT delivers a dose of radiation, concentrated on where to the tumor was removed, immediately after surgery. Focusing the radiation rather than applying radiation to the whole breast has been shown to be as effective as whole breast radiation, according to research comparing the two methods. We just started offering this at NYP this year and we’re excited to let people know about this new technology.
    • Laser ablation of breast cancer As opposed to conventional surgical removal, laser ablation therapy targets and heats the tumor to extreme temperatures in order to destroy it. This technique is still part of clinical trials but will be discussed at this year’s event.
    • Diffuse Optical Tomography (DOT) – Unlike traditional mammograms which uses x-rays, DOT uses light waves to produce images of the breast tissues. Dr. Mango will discuss this new imaging technique, along with other new advances.

148460306With the increasing popularity of Breast Cancer Awareness month and the Internet, there seems to be an overwhelming amount of information available. What is your advice to someone newly diagnosed to begin to sort through the information?

The Internet can be a great educational tool, but it also can be overwhelming and unintentionally misleading. Breast cancer tumors run the gamut between not aggressive and highly treatable to more aggressive and requiring a complicated approach. Turning only to outside resources without context from your doctor can be frightening and unhelpful.

Have an informed discussion with your physician. Our job as doctors is to provide you with an understanding about your personal situation and work with you to feel comfortable with your treatment. We encourage you to bring questions to your doctor appointment. Use reliable websites with frequently updated information, such as the American Cancer Society, to obtain background knowledge to help guide what questions you want to ask your doctor. The Internet will help you find the right questions to ask about your condition and your doctor will provide guidance.

For more information about this event, please contact Christine Rein at 201.346.7014 or e-mail her at: cmr2146@columbia.edu. You may also visit our events page.

We are looking for items to raffle off at Bridging the Gap to help support this and future breast cancer awareness community events. Please contact cmr2146@columbia.edu for more information.

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