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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Knowledge truly is power


blog christina shannon

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking alongside two colleagues of mine from CTCA, Dennis Citrin, MD, medical oncologist and Katherine Puckett, PhD, MS, MSW, LCSW, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine.

We came together to share information with a group of writers, reporters and journalists who are interested in telling the truth about breast cancer.

The message we, as experts and as people who care about life, wanted this group to take away from this meeting is the importance of knowledge and information in changing the course of breast cancer.  

The discussion focused on the conventional advances in breast cancer treatment, breast-conserving surgeries, less toxic targeted therapies, the benefit of an integrated approach to breast cancer treatment, and the impact of mind-body medicine.

Dr. Citrin began the discussion by sharing a retrospective study that was conducted at CTCA. The study identified that 11 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer had delayed treatment for six months or longer with some delaying for several years before seeking medical attention. The study showed that the longer a woman delayed treatment, the more likely the disease is to spread to other parts of the body, making it more challenging to effectively treat the disease.

Dr. Citrin’s message to women is very clear. Take control of your own health. If you feel something isn’t right, have that conversation with your doctor. The earlier we are able to diagnose and begin treatment, the greater the potential for a favorable outcome.

I see many women with breast cancer come to the clinic who have been treating for years but actually know very little about the course of the disease or its treatments. Working side by side with Dr. Citrin, I witness him daily take the time to explain to women what their diagnosis means, what their options are for treatment, and why he would recommend one treatment over another. If questions arise during the consultation, they are welcomed and answered. Women leave feeling empowered and confident that they have the knowledge from which to base their current and future decisions.

Dr. Puckett spoke about fear and stress as it relates to a breast cancer diagnosis. Dr. Puckett and her team of licensed therapists work with women to overcome and manage both real and perceived fear. Unmanaged fear can lead to stress, and stress left unchecked is unhealthy. Together, fear and stress can affect a woman’s relationships, her happiness and her decisions about treatment.

The limited research on women delaying treatment and diagnosis has pointed to depression, lack of coping skills, and fear of treatments as some of the driving factors in delay. Dr. Puckett and her team try to help reduce delays in treatment by addressing these concerns with patients.

In naturopathic medicine, my goal is to help educate women. I discuss with them the use of scientifically-based natural therapies in an integrated approach to care. The reality is women are using complementary and alternative treatments, many times on their own, without the guidance of a trained medical professional and often without divulging these treatments to their medical oncologist.

Research shows that about 50 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer are not telling their medical oncologist about these treatments. They will often come to the clinic overwhelmed with all the information provided to them or that they have obtained on the Internet. I work to create a safe, caring environment in which all women are respected. This helps lead to an open discussion about all treatment options and therapies and how to best integrate them.

As we provide more women with information on conventional treatments and integrative medicine, we can move women away from fear. Empowering more women with knowledge and providing them with the power to take control, we can help reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment for thousands of women.

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