When it comes to diagnosing breast cancer, thanks to advanced technology, younger women are being diagnosed earlier.
"I was about to turn 30 and I had a pain in my chest, and I didn't think anything of it," breast cancer survivor Connie Bramer said. "I went and had bilateral mastectomies. I had five months of chemotherapy, and I've had about 12 surgeries so far with my breast cancer."
She's cancer free now.
Staging breast cancer is often done by testing lymph nodes, which are in various areas of the body.
"I look at the axillary nodes in three levels: anatomy as it relates to the muscle, the axillary veins contents, and artery. One is basically to the side of the muscle, one's underneath the muscle, and one is further in," St. Peter's Hospital Breast Surgeon. Dr. Arvind Mahatme said.
Traditionally, to test for cancer, biopsies and the removal of lymph nodes were done, which can cause painful lymphedema.
"One out of five patients ultimately have lymphedema in the arm, which translates into quite a bit of swelling in the arm which is chronic," Dr. Mahatme added.
Recent studies report even if there is a little bit of cancer in one or two of the lymph nodes, performing a complete dissection may not be necessary in all patients and does not prolong survival rates.
"It's for patients who are having a lumpectomy and subsequently having radiation. The thought is that the benefit may not be there because these patients will have radiation to that breast," Dr. Mahatme said.
When someone is newly diagnosed with cancer, it can be overwhelming with a lot of emotion and plenty of information. It’s important to talk to the right doctor and ask the right questions.
Dr. Mahatme said, "A lot of times the uncertainty, not knowing, will bring more stress and anxiety and fear, and a little education can go a long way."