Experts say all breast cancer isn’t the same

Dr. Helen Cappuccino, Breast Cancer Surgeon, Roswell Park Cancer Institute

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — You’ve seen waves of pink during October because more than 230,000 Americans will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year alone.

Each of them will tell you: Breast cancer changes your life.

Four time cancer survivor Mary Rose McDermott says, “When you hear those words, your life all of a sudden becomes something completely different than 5 minutes ago.”

“I heard a voice clear as day say ‘You have cancer and it’s going to be okay.'” says Episcopal Priest Reverend Catherine Dempesy-Sims.

Averl Anderson is a breast cancer survivor and volunteer visitor at Roswell Park Cancer Institute who says when she heard her diagnosis: “It was like, everything was in slow motion.”

Every breast cancer survivor will tell you that life is different now.  Averl Anderson makes more time for herself and her family.  Reverend Dempesy-Sims doesn’t sweat the small stuff anymore, Mary Rose McDermott doesn’t put off doing things she and her family enjoy.

While these women have all had breast cancer, their journeys are very different because: All breast cancer is not the same.

Experts will tell you it’s all about the tissue sample and that closer look in the lab.

“Usually the definitive answer comes with tissue diagnosis. The pathologist will give us the most important information,” according to Dr. Helen Cappuccino, surgical oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Kathleen Swert RN, Breast Center Administrator, Roswell Park Cancer Institute says, “Your pathology report is specific to you and determines your treatment.”

The director of mammography at Roswell Park is Dr. Ermelinda Bonaccio.  She sees the differences in breast cancers. “It is actually a very heterogeneous disease and the more we learn about it, the more we can target treatment so that we can maximize the benefit of the treatment.”

And that means: All breast cancer treatment is not the same.

Lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone-blocking medication; a patient can expect to have some combination of these treatments.

“Is the tumor stimulated by estrogen and progesterone production in the patient,” says Dr. Helen Cappuccino. “Is it responsive to Herceptin? What genetics does the tumor have that predicts what type of treatment it’s going to be most responsive to?”

Genetic testing and personalized medicine have been game changers.  But what hasn’t changed is that all breast cancer patients need support and a breast cancer diagnosis can bring out the best in people.

“My church, my close friends, and my neighbors on my block, oh my, my neighbors were so wonderful to me,” says Averl Anderson, who is not only a breast cancer survivor but also a member of the Pastoral Care team at Roswell Park.

Reverend Catherine Dempesy-Sims, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd and Church of the Ascension says, “I had someone who was really just an acquaintance who every single week through the entire time of my treatment, she sent me a card.”

“It doesn’t take much to made a casserole, or make a meal, or just drop in for a brief visit, ” says Kathy Swert RN.

Your support for a cancer patient is more important than you might think because you can actually be part of their treatment.  Dr. Helen Cappuccino says, “I find that people who have the support of loved ones, whether it’s friends, family, people from church. They do better, they just do better.”

There are many resources for more information on breast cancer including websites for the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen For the Cure, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.





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