Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Radiation and Chemotherapy

Breast Cancer Awareness

Samantha Lantz has more from patients about their experiences with chemo, radiation, and hair loss.

Joyce Cooke was first diagnosed with breast cancer more than 11 years ago, and she’s been fighting it ever since. 

“Emotionally I think just like the first day or two until I got comfortable, and said OK so I’ll wear a little more makeup and wear some cute dangle earrings and I don’t feel so bald,” Cooke said. 

Doctors used a heavy dose of chemotherapy to weaken the disease which had now spread throughout her body, and although it helped slow the cancer down, it also took a toll on Joyce. 

“It started out pretty good other than the hair loss and I would have some nauseous days here and there and that type of thing but the fatigue, it’s just like an anchor around your foot that you can’t get rid of, it’s just always there every morning every night just exhausted you feel like, that was a big thing for me,” Cooke said. 

Doctors say chemotheraphy effects everyone differently, and that the use of it in a patient’s care varies on the size and invasivness of the cancer. 

“In the smaller cancers it may be an advantage to do the surgery first so you really know exactly how extensive of a cancer we’re dealing with and because surgery is for those with early, curable cancers the most effective part of the treatment, getting that done as quickly as possible could be important. If a woman comes in however and has a great deal of cancer, a larger lesion in the breast or cancer that was moved into the lymph nodes, we’ll sometimes do the chemotherapy first…”Dr. Philip Lowry, of Guthrie said. 

With 3-D mammography helping to find breast cancer earlier than ever before, an increasing amount of women may not even need chemo. In those cases, a patient may undergo a less aggressive treatment. Radiation for example is sometimes used to  stop cancer from returning to the same area. 

“So I would consider radiation treatment to be a local treatment where as I would consider chemotherapy to be a systemic treatment meaning you can develop side effects from head to toe. Radiation side effects tend to be limited to the area where we’re treating so in breast cancer patients, to the breast and to the surrounding tissues,” Dr. Thomas Gergel, of Guthrie said. 

“You get a localized little suntan on that spot and then the fatigue that’s what tires you out,” Joyce said. 

Guthrie’s Chief Medical Oncologist says a patient’s decision should come only after having a conversation with their doctors and considering the pros and cons of each option. 

“It’s a conversation of being aware of the risks and what things could be done to try to minimize those dangers, but still being aware that that’s always going to be part and parcel of the treatment process,” Dr. Philip Lowry said. 

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