Category Archives: Dr. Laura Esserman
I was going through some old issues of Prevention–the ones I never got around to reading–and I came upon an article entitled Your Breast Cancer Risk is in Her Hands by Sarah Klein, an article that focuses on Dr. Laura Esserman’s study that could change the way that breast cancer screenings are conducted. This is very exciting. Of course, the battle has been raging, and as you know, I reluctantly get my screenings at the urging of my doctor, even though I am not quite sure if it is necessary. Hopefully, this new five-year study will reveal some results that will put our minds at ease about skipping the mammograms.
An important tool provided in the article is a link to the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium’s calculator. I tried it. There are only like six questions but 2 are difficult to answer. If you have a lot of information on your own breasts–such as how dense they are–you might find this useful. The link is here.
I haven’t written in awhile on DCIS because I have not seen anything new lately, but recently, a well-publicized article caught my attention. While the article focused on the mammogram debate, it also noted that there is new thinking on the DCIS front.
I looked into this. There is nothing very new, but there is a seeming trend towards reconsidering extreme options for treating DCIS. I read another article in the Baltimore Sun titled Doctors Seek to Scale Back Treatment for Common Breast Cancer Diagnosis, which emphasizes the idea that DCIS rarely causes harm, but it can turn into breast cancer. The author notes that DCIS is sometimes referred to as stage-zero cancer, or pre-cancer, and again, this concept is nothing new. However, the subject of risk came up. Do we want to treat a pre-cancer as radically as a full-blown cancer? Studies are cited, and the article includes quotes from physicians, including Dr. Esserman. It is a good article that visits the nuances of decision-making, and why it is still so difficult to know what to do. But does it really point to a new way of thinking? The short answer is, not really. The topic is still very controversial, but with headlines like this, there is a suggestion that perhaps the community is looking into the difficulty in making decisions for those diagnosed with DCIS. It is a recognition that women aren’t just doing what they’re told. They are thinking about their options.
The article looks at choices, such as the one that Angelina Jolie made. At the time her situation became public, I co-authored a blog post titled Angelina Jolie’s Decision at Everything Noetic on why it was courageous for her to have made that choice. Personally, I would vie for watching and waiting as opposed to taking radical action. Of course, it is easy for me to say. When faced with a 5% chance of breast cancer, I decided to do a surgical, incisional biopsy, a procedure that my doctor assured would have removed the DCIS with clean margins had it turned out to be positive. Truthfully, I don’t know what I would do had things gone a different way. Plus, I didn’t watchfully wait, nor did I do the less invasive stereotactic biopsy. It is hard to know what you would really do in any given situation that has not yet occurred.
When it comes to treating DCIS or a suspicious mammogram, I do not think there are right and wrong answers. I do however hope that future research will support a trend away from aggressive treatment.
Sympathetic doctors are not hard to find. Many doctors do have a bedside manner, they are sympathetic, and they make us feel good. We have confidence in them. But the truth is that while sympathy can be dished out quite readily by physicians with charismatic personalities, their advice may be influenced by the current thinking, which is not always the best thing for us. That is, there is a lot unknown, and doctors fear taking a leap by going with their gut, so they vie on the safe side. You may be thinking, that’s a good thing. Doctors should not take unnecessary risks.That seems logical, but what about the risks that interventions come with? Screening, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are not risk-free choices. For many conditions outside of the breast cancer realm, the cure is sometimes worse than the disease, so even with a diagnosis of cancer, patients need to exercise caution and not hurry into treatments just because one doctor makes a recommendation.
Dr. Laura Esserman is one doctor who does understand the issues and more than merely sympathizing, she understands the frustration that patients experience. Interviewed at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Dr. Esserman speaks about the problems that patients experience when they are diagnosed and treated. This is an excellent video to view whether you are just curious about the mammogram controversy, the difference between high and low risk cancers, and the importance of clinical trials.
In the video, Dr. Esserman announces the creation of the Athena Breast Health Network in California and recommends that patients be proactive and look into clinical trials when they are faced with decisions about breast cancer treatment. She refers listeners to breastcancertrials.org where breast cancer trials around the nation are listed.
The present thinking is to treat DCIS early, but there are really no studies to back up this manner of thinking. It is defensive medicine at its worst. Take a look at Part 3 of a wonderful interview with Dr. Laura Esserman who makes a case for possibly not intervening even when DCIS is discovered. It is an enlightening and refreshing take on this controversial issue.