Cancer is perhaps one of the biggest medical problems the modern world faces. The second leading cause of death in the United States, cancer kills one out of every four Americans. Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of this terrible disease. It will affect one out of every eight American women and is expected to kill 40,290 women in 2015 alone.
As a society, we take breast cancer very seriously. There are entire organizations whose sole purpose is to raise funds for and aid in breast cancer research. But what can you do if you’ve been diagnosed? The situation can turn quickly from wanting to help others, to needing help yourself. There will be many questions in the weeks and months that follow, and understanding the events that will unfold can help relieve some of the stress that comes with a potentially devastating diagnosis.
What is Breast Cancer?
Cancer itself can be described as a disease in which a group of abnormal cells grows and begins to attack the body’s healthy cells. Breast cancer begins in the breast tissue but can spread to other areas of the body. As these cells reproduce, they form a mass of tissue and become a tumor, often referred to as a lump or growth.
How to Check Yourself
Breast cancer can have some symptoms, such as nipple pain, nipple discharge, or a swelling of the breast, but it is possible to have breast cancer without manifesting any external symptoms. Since a cancerous growth may not be visible to the naked eye, it’s a good idea for women over the age of 20 to do a self-breast exam once a month.
Doing a home breast exam is simple and should only take a few minutes. To begin, stand in front of the mirror with your shoulders straight. Place your hands on your hips and look at your breasts for signs of swelling, discoloration, bulging, or changes in nipple position. Now repeat this visual check again, this time with your arms raised.
The second part of your home exam needs to be done laying down. Using the first few fingers of your right hand for your left breast, and left hand for your right breast, apply firm, direct pressure in a circular pattern. Be sure to cover the entire area of the breast and work your fingers through each part of the breast tissue. The final step is to repeat this portion of the exam, but while standing. Again, make sure you inspect every area of the breast, from your underarm to your cleavage, and collarbone to rib cage.
Getting a Mammogram
By the age of 20, women should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) performed once every one to three years. Once they’ve reached 40, women need to have both a CBE and a mammogram performed once a year to screen for cancer. And of course, regardless of your age, if your home breast exam turns up anything even remotely suspicious, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
While getting a mammogram may not be fun, it is the ideal way to maintain breast health and screen for any possible issues. A mammogram is really just an x-ray that’s done exclusively on breast tissue. It’s a procedure that takes around 20 minutes, with results usually coming back within 30 days.
To perform a mammogram your doctor will place your breast between two plastic plates. The plates will be compressed, flattening your breast, at which point the x-ray will be taken. This process is done two times for each breast to provide a full picture of the breast tissue.
Dealing with a Diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, don’t lose hope. Depending on at what stage doctors catch the growth, there are a variety of medications or treatments he may prescribe. However, if the cancer has progressed enough, or if you are at a high risk for breast cancer based on familial traits, your doctor may recommend a mastectomy.
A mastectomy is the full or partial removal of breast tissue. In some scenarios, only a small portion of breast tissue needs to be removed. In more severe cases, the cancer may be at a stage that requires the removal of both breasts. It is performed under general anesthesia and usually doesn’t take longer than 2-3 hours.
Typically, the post-mastectomy recovery period is relatively short. The procedure itself is an outpatient surgery and you should be able to resume normal daily activity in about a week or so. Exercise and more strenuous activities are usually on the table again after 4 weeks of recovery. Your doctor will provide you with pain medication as well as instruct you in some exercises you can do to prevent stiffness and help with recovery.
What to Expect from Reconstructive Surgery
To many women, breasts are a large part of their feminine identity and self-image. To lose a part, one, or both of them can be devastating to a woman’s self-esteem. Thankfully, breast reconstruction surgery is becoming a more widespread and commonplace procedure. The meticulous surgeons at The Centre P.C. have years of combined experience performing breast reconstruction surgeries on women with a variety of body types and sizes.
During the procedure, the doctor will put into place an implant that’s designed to imitate the shape and size of your natural breasts. He can also reconstruct the nipple, if needed. The surgeons at The Centre P.C. can also perform autologous reconstruction, which uses skin and muscle flaps from other parts of the body to create a breast without using implants. If you’ve had reconstruction in the past but are unhappy with how it turned out or the way it looks, revision reconstruction surgery can provide any needed adjustments.
Post surgery you will likely have one or more drains in your wound to remove extra fluid from the surgery site. These drains will require occasional emptying, which your doctor will instruct you on before you leave the hospital. He’ll also provide you with information on wearing a post-operative bra that can help provide extra support to your healing breasts.
In 6-8 weeks, you should be feeling a good bit better and start to see most of the swelling and bruising dissipate. While reconstruction will not restore normal feeling in that area, your body may begin to regrow nerves and regain some sensation over the course of several years. Your scars will be with you forever, but they will begin to fade slightly after a year or two. Before you know it, you’ll start to feel like yourself again. It’s incredible how much breast reconstruction can do for the self-esteem and sexuality of a woman who’s been through cancer.
How The Centre P.C. Can Help
Our goal is to help women who have had to undergo a mastectomy feel like themselves again. We’re proud to do this kind of work and our mission is to change lives for the better. Our surgeons use their expertise to create beautiful, healthy looking breasts for women in need.
Our team will work with you one-on-one to determine the best course of action for reconstructing your breasts. We’re professional, friendly, and we truly care about the women in our community who have suffered the experience of breast cancer and/or a mastectomy. If you, a family member, or a loved one have undergone a partial or radical mastectomy, give The Centre P.C. a call. We’ll help revitalize your self-image and restore your natural beauty, so that you can feel like yourself again. Contact us online or call us at 800-909-2992 for a free consultation.