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Breast cancer is an ancient disease

October 13, 2012
Carol Tomlinson , The Leader Herald

Breast cancer is an ancient disease. It has been mentioned in every period of recorded history. However, even with its profound significance, any discussion of breast cancer was only found in medical journals before the 1970s. Early treatments for this disease were rudimentary and often painful. In 1810, Abigail Adams underwent a grueling mastectomy without anesthesia.

In the centuries since the first recorded mastectomy in 548 A.D., breast cancer has been treated with everything from castor oil to opium to various homemade salves. Starting in the mid-1800s, radical mastectomy became the "gold standard." In 1949, a doctor became known for creating the super-radical mastectomy which removed the breast, lymph nodes, chest muscles and the internal mammary nodes even if the tumor's size was only half an inch, leaving the patient deformed and in pain. This treatment was continued until 1963. As the ability to visualize the internal breast through technology began to develop, the thinking about and treatment of breast cancer changed radically. By 1969 mammograms became available.

The development of radiation and chemotherapies also rose rapidly. By 1976, the "gold standard" became a simpler, breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. In the 21st century, less than 10 percent of women with breast cancer have a mastectomy according to the American Cancer Society.

Today, this disease is discussed openly and advances are shared worldwide. Activism by such organizations as ACS, the National Cancer Institute and the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure foundation have brought focus and much needed financial support for research and development of the best detection equipment and therapies.

There's been an explosion of new life-saving treatment advances against breast cancer. Instead of only one or two options, today there's an overwhelming menu of treatment options. Today's level of radiation with mammography uses less than a dental X-ray, and discomfort during the procedure has been reduced by such things as the soft pad.

Additionally, breast cancer can be detected much earlier when the treatment is the most effective. The currently most utilized treatments for breast cancer in the USA include surgery (mastectomy or more commonly lumpectomy), radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy.

There are now various types and combinations of chemotherapies that can be used for a specific type of tumor. Also, we now have five "targeted therapies" that target the specific characteristics of a cancer cell. Recently, scientists also reported finding four types of breast cancer through genetic profiling.

The ultimate cure for this disease remains elusive due to its complex nature, but detection advances and treatments have proliferated in the 21st century giving women and men not only hope but also more choices about their treatment and recovery. There are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the USA today and the five year survival rate is 99 percent when the cancer is found early.

For more information, contact your healthcare provider, American Cancer Society at, or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. You can e-mail us at, see our website at, or visit our wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We're your community health and wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.



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