What about a masectomy?

Many people have been surprised to hear that the treatment for my breast cancer began with chemotherapy. In fact, less than three weeks after diagnosis, I had my first round of chemo. It would have been a week earlier, even, except that the results of all the tests and scans were delayed due to the July 4th holiday.

Inflammatory breast cancer is different from other forms of breast cancer. Scientists don’t even know if it’s actually that closely related to traditional breast cancer, or if it just happens to occur in the same part of the body. There just aren’t that many cases to study, and there hasn’t been much interest in studying this rare disease until recently.

Traditional treatment for any breast cancer begins with a lumpectomy or masectomy, especially if the cancer has not metastisized, or spread beyond the breast and lymph node system. The difficult thing about IBC is that by the time it is diagnosed, it has already spread to the skin, or, more accurately, to the lymphatic system, which means it can spread more easily than a lumpy cancer. A masectomy is a surgical procedure, removing skin as well as breast tissue, and, well, just about everything related to the breast, depending on the type of masectomy that is performed. As such, it makes the area more vulnerable to infection AND a fertile ground for the spread of the cancer cells. Masectomy also increases the chance of recurrence because the skin is stitched together after a masectomy.

Chemotherapy is now the first line of treatment for IBC because it reduces the size of the tumor, making surgery more possible without this huge chance of spread right away. It also kills the cancer cells that have spread throughout the body — which is a huge possibility with cancers that are 2 inches or more — or IBC, which covers large portions of the skin. The larger the cancer, the more chance that individual cells have spread throughout the body and begun to grow. But we can’t see these small cells with today’s scans, so we have to start with a systematic treatment

But the most important thing to know is that chemotherapy before masectomy increases the chance of survival. A decade ago, only 2% of IBC patients survived 5 years. Today, with chemotherapy the preferred first treatment, 40% of IBC patients survive 5 years.

That’s reason enough for me to do chemotherapy first.

34 Responses to What about a masectomy?

  1. Jenster says:

    “That’s reason enough for me to do chemotherapy first.”

    Absolutely!

  2. kgirlto says:

    It’s a whole new education, isn’t it?

  3. Indeed. I had wondered that same thing and googled it – your rendition is so much better!

    Still sending you tons of positive thoughts.

  4. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the explanation. The more we all know, the more we can get the word out.

  5. twithhoney says:

    I would have never guessed this. Wow!

  6. Thinking of you…. thank you so much for helping us all to understand.

  7. Matt says:

    Hey! – We’re all about increasing the chances of survival around here. Kick.It’s.Ass. Still sending good thoughts your way every day.

  8. Lil Liberal says:

    40% is an excellent increase in the odds. Research is amazing.

    Your posts are so educational, thank you. I’ve learned so much and am able to pass on so much information to the women that I talk with and that I’m friends with. Thank you for this.

  9. Bon says:

    just echoing the others…thank you for this, for helping us all to learn and understand, for being so willing to offer.

    thinking about you, visioning you ten and twenty years in the future, healthy and cancer-free.

  10. Ana says:

    After reading your explanation, a hearty Amen to your final comment! Always in my prayers.

  11. Jenn says:

    And reason enough to keep on keepin’ on.

    When I say that you’re always in my thoughts, I hope you know how very much I mean that.

    My prayers are with you always.

  12. NoRegrets says:

    Very very interesting. So, there is movement to get more research on this, correct? Hmmm…. gotta start thinking about raising money for it…

  13. ~JJ! says:

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing all of that.

    I didn’t know that.

    So what are they doing to get more research on this particular topic?

  14. Angela says:

    Sounds good to me too! Thank you for answering that question. I hope the powers that be are stepping up and researching the heck out of this!

  15. canape says:

    Thanks for explaining this in writing. Someone asked me this question yesterday and I fumbled around much like when I would try and explain your doctoral project to people.

    There are these space specks and a giant net thing . . .

  16. practiceliving says:

    Wow, that’s really interesting, thank you for explaining. Amazing the amount of change in those 5-year survival percentages.

  17. maggie says:

    I’d wondered and not asked; thank you for the explanation.

  18. ohamanda says:

    I honestly hadn’t even thought about that. What good info. You’re one of the survivors! Always praying!

  19. Colleen says:

    Again… thank you so much for sharing your story and your knowledge. The more we learn… the better we are.

  20. LawyerMama says:

    Thank you so much for explaining this. I was talking to someone a few days ago about your site and your diagnosis and we were both wondering why you needed to have chemo first. Question answered.

  21. Gawgi says:

    S – thanks so much for your explanation. I have been dealing with wondering why it took so long for my daughter-in-law’s doctor to get to chemo. I guess some doctors are not attuned to this new way of thinking.

  22. Emily says:

    Wow! Now them’s some improved odds…

  23. Arkie Mama says:

    The information you’re providing is invaluable.

    I knew none of this.

  24. Thank you, Whymommy… I had actually been wondering about this all along. One would think that actually removing as much of the cancer as possible would be the first step, but you have explained the reasons why this is NOT the case with IBC, and so well! We are all learning so much from you.

    You and your family are always in my thoughts and prayers. xo CGF

  25. GTech Doc says:

    Just some more facts about cancer to help drive home the importance of regular check-ups with your doctor:

    1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetime.

    100% of men and 99% of women will survive greater than 5 years with early detection.

    33% of men and 26% of women will survive greater than 5 years with late detection.

  26. Linda Sue says:

    Initial use of chemo is becoming more the choice in a few other cancers also – kill those suckers, then cut them out and burn them with radiation – strange how willing I am to go to extremes to kill cancer cells and hate to have to spray for bugs – all life is NOT equal and yours is very precious.

  27. Kimberly says:

    Hi there. I was sent to your blog by another one, you know how it goes. Anyway, I suddenly realized you are in the D.C. metro area. As am I. I also know you have many friends and supporters in the bloggy world and here, and you don’t know me from Eve, but is there anything I can do for you in real life? My one-year old keeps me busy, but I am a SAHM and can do stuff if you need it! Email me if I can help! Thanks for your posts.

  28. whymommy says:

    Okay, GTDoc, now it’s my turn to say

    I didn’t know that!

    What amazing odds there are if the cancer is detected early. So very important.

    So, ladies, have you done your Breast Self Exam this month? It’s the one we know how to do, and we know we should do! Go to the Susan G. Komen site if you need a refresher on how it’s done.

  29. whymommy says:

    Kimberly,

    Thank you for your very kind offer. I think we have everything we need. But it is so sweet to hear from you and to hear your comment. It gets lonely around here, in real life.

  30. motherofbun says:

    This was a wonderful and informative post. I love you for talking about this… You’re helping us to understand what this journey is like for you and other cancer patients.

  31. […] Comments motherofbun on What about a masectomy?whymommy on What about a masectomy?whymommy on What about a masectomy?Tara-Lynn on […]

  32. Kirstin says:

    I finally got around to posting on our blog about IBC. Keep on fighting and thank you for enlightening us all.

    Thinking of you…hope you enjoyed your pink bag of goodies today.

  33. […] that, come January, I will never have to wear a bra again if I don’t want to.  That I won’t have […]

  34. […] Considering I couldn’t even SPELL mastectomy the last time we talked about it, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the idea.  A good […]

%d bloggers like this: