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Breast Cancer Awareness Month is Here: How to be an Informed Patient

As many of us know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Humans have known about breast cancer as far back as the early Egyptians. And, because of its visible manifestations, breast cancer has been mentioned in essentially every  period since then. In the early years, the theories of what caused breast cancer varied from everything from too much black bile to a sedentary lifestyle to childlessness. It was not until the 20th century that real advances in the disease's origins began to develop and efficacious treatments began to emerge. Now, early detection and diagnosis along with advances in treatment have increased the survival rate to 83%.

With the ever evolving advances in medicine, today, merely surviving is not the goal; the goal is to continue living. What helps to fulfill this goal is for patients to be seen as and treated as human persons, not numbers on a chart or the disease they are fighting. Part of this falls within the responsibility of the doctor, but part also falls on the patient, who must be informed, educated and inquisitive.

For newly diagnosed patients, this means asking a lot of questions, even if it feels scary to do so. As reported by US Health News, there are seven pertinent questions to ask about a breast cancer diagnoses:

1. What type of breast cancer do I have?

2. How big is my tumor?

3. Is the cancer in my lymph nodes?

4. What is the stage of my cancer?

5. What is the grade of my tumor?

6. What is my estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor status?

7. What is my HER2 status?

Each of these questions can help inform patients about crucial issues and can inform their treatment decisions. Common treatments for breast cancer include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and various types of medication. One type of medication that has been popular is Taxotere.

Taxotere is an intravenous injection manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis. It is primarily used to treat breast cancer and is a popular treatment option because of its convenient injection schedule. However, one of the side effects of Taxotere can be permanent hair loss, also known as alopecia. In fact, many women did not see hair regrowth for more than ten years after completing their treatment. By being educated about options, doing research and asking pertinent questions, patients can make decisions that are truly informed and can avoid medications that cause such devastating effects in favor of equally effective treatment modalities. Cancer is scary. Cancer is real. Be an informed patient. Be an advocate for yourself.

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