Breast Cancer

Laura Corirossi performed a self-breast exam every morning in the shower. On November 3, 2016, Corirossi rolled over in bed and felt a lump the size of a marble in her breast.

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“I was frantic and I got in to see my primary doctor the next day,” said Corirossi, 56.

Corirossi’s life changed that morning as she started tests immediately with a mammogram and ultrasound. A biopsy the following week confirmed her fears—triple negative breast cancer. The cancer was very aggressive, between stage I and II. She met with breast surgeon Aislinn Vaughan, MD with SSM Breast Care.

“She has a great bedside manner, but she tells is how it is,” said Corirossi. “You know she cares about her patients. You leave the office knowing what’s going to happen.”

Within 30 days of her diagnosis, Corirossi underwent a double mastectomy and started chemotherapy just weeks later.

“Luckily we found it early and it had not spread to my lymph nodes,” said Corirossi.

On June 1, Corirossi completed her last round of chemotherapy and her final breast reconstructive surgery was on July 17.  She is now cancer-free.

“Everyone I was treated by was caring and kind and wonderful,” said Corirossi. “They do their jobs with grace, compassion, and professionalism.”

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States currently, including women still being treated and those who have completed treatment. The ACS estimated that about 40,610 women will die from breast cancer in 2017.

Death rates from breast cancer dropped from 1989 to 2007. Since 2007, breast cancer death rates have been steady in women younger than 50, but have continued to decrease in older women.

“These decreases are believed to be the result of finding breast cancer earlier through screening and increased awareness, as well as better treatments,” said Vaughan.

Vaughan said health insurance does still cover yearly mammograms in women, despite all the controversies about whether women should start mammograms at age 40, and whether they should have them every year, as opposed to every two years.

“Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 is the most proven way to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer,” said Vaughan.  

However, there is some controversy over how often mammograms need to be performed and at what age women should start with mammograms.

Vaughan said there is no one guideline, but SSM Breast Care recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40.

“There is no controversy that this is the best way to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. The controversy comes into play as to whether that benefit (less risk of dying from breast cancer) is worth the downsides of mammography,” said Vaughan. “Those downsides include the anxiety of being called back for more imaging if something is seen on a screening mammogram, and sometimes having a biopsy for what turns out to be a benign (non-cancerous) finding. Most of us who care for women with breast cancer believe that the benefits outweigh the downsides.”

Vaughan said there are some organizations that believe they don’t, and recommend starting at an older age, and/or doing mammograms every two years, rather than every year.

There are several common misconceptions about breast cancer that Vaughan wants to debunk.

“Some women believe that they are not at risk for breast cancer if they don’t have any family history of it,” said Vaughan.

But the reality is that most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history.

“However, women with family history of breast cancer may be at higher risk of developing breast cancer than the average woman,” said Vaughan.

Vaughan also shared that biopsies do not make cancer spread, and choosing or having a full mastectomy instead of a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy) does not improve survival.

According to Vaughan, the most common breast cancer at this time is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). Other types include Invasive Lobular Carcinoma or DCIS. There are many other less common types besides those: metaplastic, medullary, tubular, papillary.

Vaughan said typically the first step after diagnosis is to meet with a surgeon to learn more about the surgical options, the different doctors, and treatments that might be involved in their care.

“SSM has breast cancer nurse navigators who help patients during their biopsy and after they get results to get into a surgeon,” said Vaughan. “They also help run a support group for survivors.” 

There are also organizations created specifically to help women fighting breast cancer. The Karen Weidinger Foundation, a breast cancer support foundation in St. Charles, can help women with many donated items and sometimes financial support.

“Gateway to Hope also helps women with breast cancer throughout St. Louis and in particular helps women who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for insurance, or are having trouble making their monthly insurance premium payments,” said Vaughan

Once a patient has been diagnosed and started treatment, knowing how to help a family or friend facing cancer can be difficult. Corirossi said her children would call her constantly, send a funny text or just let her know they were thinking of her.

“Knowing that they’re there and they love you (helps so much),” said Corirossi, who still wears a necklace from her daughter that features an elephant which signifies strength.

Providing an extra set of ears during appointments and check-ups is also a big help for patients.

“Listen to them. Be an extra set of ears, as the information can be complicated, and comes at them quickly,” said Vaughan.

After learning she was cancer-free, Corirossi struggled with life after cancer.

“One of the hardest parts is getting your mind wrapped around that you are cured and that every pain doesn’t mean you have cancer again,” said Corirossi.

To help, Corirossi said she takes advantage of support groups and attends events like the Cancer Survivor Dinner which is put together by the staff at SSM Cancer Care. 300+ people attend the annual event in June which celebrates cancer survivors with dinner and a fun night out.

For more information and statistics about all types of cancer, visit the American Cancer Society’s website, www.cancer.org.

Current year estimates for breast cancer

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2017:     About 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.

About 63,410 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed. CIS is noninvasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer.

Trends in breast cancer incidence

In recent years, incidence rates have been the same in white and African American women. Breast cancer is more common in these women, compared to women of other races/ethnicities.

Trends in breast cancer deaths

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Only lung cancer kills more women each year. The chance that a woman will die from breast cancer is about 1 in 37 (about 2.7%).

Death rates from breast cancer dropped from 1989 to 2007. Since 2007, breast cancer death rates have been steady in women younger than 50, but have continued to decrease in older women.

(all statistics are from the American Cancer Society’s Website)

 

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