“Of course I was scared, I’ve been so blessed all my life, never had any serious health issues.”
Bonnie Rae Ross is 84 years old and a breast cancer survivor. Thanks to being someone who does regular self-breast exams, she noticed a change, and caught her cancer in an early stage, “I always self-examine, have for forever, and I found a small lump under my left breast and thought gee, I don’t remember ever feeling that before.”
She went to see her regular doctor who confirmed there was a lump. She then called a family member, Laurri Jones, who is a CU Medicine Nurse Practitioner at the Diane O’Connor Breast Center, and suggested Bonnie come to the clinic for care.
From Nebraska, Bonnie thought it was worth the trip to come to Colorado. When she arrived at the Diane O’Connor Breast Center, doctors performed a biopsy and diagnosed her with stage 1 breast cancer.
CU Medicine breast surgical oncologist, Dr. Nicole Christian performed the lumpectomy surgery to remove the cancerous breast tissue, “Bonnie had a surgery to remove the lump in her breast and will receive systemic treatment in the form of a non-chemotherapy based treatment, which is a pill she takes every single day that’s very effective at preventing the cancer from coming back.”
Reducing Your Breast Cancer Risk
All women are at risk of developing breast cancer. Men are as well but they account for a very small percentage, less than one percent, of cases.
Dr. Christian commends Bonnie for finding the lump in her breast and says the recommendation for self-examination is to not just check once a month but practice something called breast awareness, “You want to be aware enough about what your breasts feel like at any given point in your cycle so that if there is a change, you would notice it.”
While a healthy lifestyle is important, the best way to reduce your risk of breast cancer is with regular screening, “We tend to recommend the American Cancer Society screening guidelines which is that women should get annual screening with mammography every year starting at age 40,” Christian explained.
The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends mammograms every other year starting at 50 for average risk women. Knowing your family history is very important in assessing your risk. All women should talk with their regular doctor to figure out the best screening regimen for them.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Changes in breast tissue, like a lump, are a reason to see your doctor. There are also some other symptoms to be aware of.
The most common signs are:
- A change in the look or feel of the breast OR
- A change in the look or feel of the nipple OR
- Nipple discharge (can rarely be a sign of breast cancer but is serious if it is bloody or clear, occurs without squeezing, occurs in only one breast)
See a health care provider if you:
- Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from the rest of your breast
- Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from your other breast
- Feel something that’s different from what you felt before
Breast Cancer Treatment
Every breast cancer is different and every patient will need tailored, personalized care. Typically treatment involves some kind of surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and then that is followed by a systemic treatment which can include a hormone blocking pill, like in Bonnie’s case, or it may also include chemotherapy and radiation.
“The way we approach breast cancer at the University of Colorado is that when patients are diagnosed with a new breast cancer they see a multidisciplinary team at the very beginning so they see myself, a medical oncologist who does systemic therapy choices, a radiation oncologist who talks about the role of radiation therapy as well as a team of nurses, nurse practitioners, and potentially other providers who might play a role in their care,” said Christian.
If you have warning signs of breast cancer, it’s important to see a doctor, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t put it off seeing a doctor if you notice a change in your breast or underarm area.