A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis Need Not Be a Death Sentence
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Although more than 40 percent of all breast cancers in Mexico are detected late, once the disease has metastasized and spread to other organs, a diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence, said gyne-oncologist Cynthia Villarreal Garza, head of the Tec de Monterrey’s Oncological Center and researcher at the National Institute of Cancerology.
“As of yet, there is no cure for metastasized breast cancer, but there is treatment, and with the right treatment, patients can live a long and fruitful life,” Villarreal Garza said during a breast cancer awareness conference organized by transnational pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in cooperation with Glamour magazine on Friday, Oct. 25.
The key to surviving Stage 4 breast cancer, Villarreal Garza said, is to treat it early and to get the right treatment.
“There are several different types of breast cancer, each caused by different factors, and each type requires a different medical approach to treatment,” she said.
The type of tissue where the cancer begins and the root cause of the tumor determine how the cancer will behave and what treatments will be most effective, Villarreal Garza said.
Some breast cancers are fueled by hormones, others by genetics and others by lifestyles.
These factors can only be discovered through a biopsy examination by a pathologist, so it is crucial that testing be done as soon as possible.
“Particularly in the case of metastatic breast cancer, we are facing a race against time,” Villarreal Garza said, noting that, in Mexico, while the five-year survival rate for Stage 1 and Stage 2 are now nearly 100 percent and 98 percent, respectively, in the case of Stage 4 breast cancer, the five-year survival rate is just 16 percent, compared to 26 percent in the United States.
“The main problem in Mexico is the gap between the detection of the disease and the pathologic studies and treatment,” she said.
While in most private Mexican hospitals, the gap is only a few days or weeks, at most, in public hospitals the average time between detection and treatment is seven months.
Those seven months can determine a patient’s chances for surviving the disease.
“The important thing to remember is that breast cancer, even in its most advanced stages, is treatable, but time is of the essence,” Villarreal Garza concluded.
“All women over 20 should give themselves monthly self-examinations, and those over 25 should have an annual examine with a qualified physician. Women over age 40 and those with a family history of the disease should have a mammogram every year or two.”
If breast cancer is detected, it is vital that treatment be administered as soon as possible, she said.
“Women with breast cancer — even advanced breast cancer — are today living full and happy lives,” she said.
“We as women have to take responsibility for our health and be proactive in working with our doctors to ensure we have the best possible outcome.”