Treating the Whole Woman, Not Just Breast Cancer
William Dugoni, MD
General Surgery - Hospitalist
When we talk about women’s health, we tend to focus a lot on breast
cancer and the need for regular screenings. That’s because breast
cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women after skin cancer.
Statistics show that 1 in 8 women will develop the disease at some point
in their lives.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when cells in breast tissue – typically in the
milk ducts or glands – mutate and begin to invade surrounding tissues.
Usually, these cells form malignant tumors that can be felt as a lump
or seen on a mammogram. There’s also a risk that it can metastasize
or spread to other areas of the body.
What is My Risk?
While the exact cause of breast cancer is still unclear, there are biological
and lifestyle factors that help determine whether you’re at increased
risk of developing the disease. Apart from being a woman, advancing age,
especially if you’re over the age of 50 and/or an African-American
woman, and family history are some of the most significant risk factors.
A woman whose first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) has had
breast cancer has a significantly increased risk of developing the disease. Two
genetic mutations in particular, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been identified to cause some instances
of breast cancer. However, it’s important to note that being genetically
predisposed to developing breast cancer does not mean you will get the disease.
How is it Detected?
As with most forms of cancer,
early detection is the key to better outcomes. That’s why it’s so important
to regularly conduct self-examinations, have annual wellness check-ups,
and mammograms as recommended.
Regardless of age, it’s recommended that women perform
breast self-examinations once a month to get familiar with the shape and consistency of your breasts,
so you’re more likely to detect any abnormalities. For patients
who are unsure about how to spot changes in breast tissue, I tell them
to literally draw a picture of a clock, check “hour by hour”,
and mark any lumps or fibrous tissue they may feel. Then, when you do
your self-exam next month, you have something to refer to.
A mammogram is essentially a specialized x-ray that can detect lumps within
the breast before they can be felt. Even if you haven’t detected
any abnormalities during self-examination or possess known risk factors,
it’s recommended that women over the age of 40 receive a mammogram
every 1-2 years. Those known to be at an elevated risk for developing
breast cancer should consult their doctor before scheduling a mammogram.
Looking Beyond Breast Cancer
But, while it’s important to know the risks and symptoms of breast
cancer, it’s just as important to understand the psychological and
emotional impact that it incurs.
At the Washington Hospital Women’s Center, we’ve put a lot
of resources into creating an environment that promotes healing, more
importantly, peace, during a scary time in the lives of our patients.
From the soothing, spa-like atmosphere to the care and support of our
Nurse Navigators, we want to help treat our patients’ minds, bodies
and souls, not just their cancer.
In addition to advanced diagnostic services, the Women’s Center offers
massages and yoga for stress and pain management, breast health seminars
and support groups, as well as bra and prosthetic fittings. If diagnosed,
our Nurse Navigators work with patients, their families and their physicians
to ensure they’re getting the best possible treatments, support
services, and guidance through their breast cancer journeys.
Although there are
more than 3 million women with a history of breast cancer living in the United States, it’s
still a scary concept for many to grapple with – but it’s
important to know that diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence.
Early detection, advanced treatments and greater awareness of the risks
and dangers it poses have contributed to decreasing death rates over the
past few decades. Knowing your body and receiving your recommended screenings
are the first steps to finding, treating and beating this disease.
If you’d like to learn more about the Women’s Center and its
Nurse Navigators, visit the
Washington Hospital website. To learn about how the UCSF-Washington Hospital partnership is bringing
comprehensive, specialized cancer care to the Tri-City Area, see this piece on
community-based cancer care.
Posted January, 2019
About William E. Dugoni, MD
Dr. William E. Dugoni, Jr. is a 4th generation San Franciscan, specializing
in general and oncologic surgery and is a member of Washington Township
Medical Foundation in Fremont. He is a graduate of University of California
San Francisco Medical School. In his work as both a surgeon and Director
of Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s Women’s Center,
he has been a partner in providing the best care possible for breast cancer
patients. He currently serves as the President of the Washington Outpatient
Surgery Center Board of Directors, Trustee for the Washington Foundation
and Director of the Washington Hospital Surgical Hospitalist Program.