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3:24 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

Advances in breast cancer treatment offer women options

PRESCOTT - Breast cancer will strike one out of eight women in the United States, according to medical statistics. While treatment is changing rapidly to keep pace with modern technology, doctors and nurses still do not have a perfect way to screen for breast cancer.

However, Dr. Christa Corn said a new blood test for breast cancer is more accurate than a mammogram, which is currently the best screening procedure available.

Corn, a breast cancer surgeon from Phoenix, said the new blood test will allow doctors to better evaluate the patient's risk of breast cancer. She said the test "will be available in Phoenix the end of October or (at the beginning of) of November."

Corn was in Prescott Wednesday morning to participate in the Prescott Community Center's and Yavapai County Community Health Services' Health Awareness Week.

Corn said today's woman faces difficult decisions in the treatment of breast cancer. However, early detection is still key, she added.

"Ninety-eight percent of women survive breast cancer with early detection," she said.

The doctor recommends self-examinations, yearly physicals and mammogram screenings.

"Women should start getting a yearly mammogram at the age of 40. However, if they have a family history of breast cancer - a mother or sister - they should get a mammogram before they reach the age when their mother or sister were diagnosed," Corn said.

She said doctors have as many types of treatment as there are breast cancers.

"The problem is that one size does not fit all. All cancers are different. You have to treat the person. A woman must be involved in her treatment from the beginning," Corn said.

Women suffer from two types of breast cancer - invasive and non-invasive. Invasive cancer spreads throughout the body. A tumor or sac encapsulates non-invasive cancer.

"Breast cancer is not a disease. There are multiple types of cancer of the breast. Most breast cancers are slow-growing. By the time they are found, a woman has had it for three of four years," Corn said.

The treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of all three.

Corn said it is important for women to be involved in selecting the treatment option. A woman's primary physician and a radiologist also should be part of the treatment team.

Corn said women should ask three basic questions when looking for a breast surgeon: Do you understand sentinel nodes? What about partial breast radiation and lumpectomy? What about immediate skin-saving surgery and reconstruction?

Sentinel lymph nodes are pea-sized structures that filter fluids that circulate through the body. The lymph nodes collect foreign materials such as cancer cells, bacteria and viruses from these fluids.

Surgical options range from a lumpectomy to a mastectomy.

She recommends women change doctors if they will not sit and talk with them or if they immediately talk about scheduling a mastectomy.

Corn said if a woman has a mastectomy, she is usually a candidate for immediate breast reconstruction.

"No woman should be told that she has to wait a year before having reconstructive surgery," the doctor said.

Corn said radiation therapy is critical following a lumpectomy. She said a patient receiving radiation within two weeks of surgery either progresses to chemotherapy or is finished with treatment.

Today, the death rate from breast cancer is low. Corn said the new chemotherapy drugs are better than before.

"It is not the cancer located in the breast that kills. It is the cancer that spreads to other areas of the body," she said. "Breast cancer is a systemic disease. Surgery combined with radiation only affect local recurrence. The final outcome is determined by whether the tumor has metastasized.

"We can't prevent breast cancer but we can reduce the risk. The main thing is to save lives and do it in a timely manner."

People may contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 to learn questions to ask a doctor or surgeon.

Contact the reporter at prhoden@prescottaz.com