Overcoming the Fear of Breast Cancer


from the Breast Health Center

If you’re scared that you will one day hear the words, “You have breast cancer,” you’ve got plenty of company. Breast cancer is the most feared cancer among women. Sometimes, it’s not just the word “cancer” that’s at the root of the fear, but dread of issues associated with treating cancer, such as surgical complications and medication side effects. Perhaps you’ve been through a breast cancer diagnosis with someone close to you and know how difficult it can be.

While these are understandable fears, the danger is that some women are so overwhelmed with anxiety that they postpone screenings, such as breast exams and mammograms, or even skip them altogether for fear of bad news. Yet these are the very examinations that can help save lives by finding cancer early on, when it’s most treatable.

Women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer face a different set of fears as they go through various stages of anxiety and acceptance. Many are in a state of denial at first. This can quickly turn to anger and a feeling that their world has been turned upside down. Some women wonder what they have done to deserve this and are unsure about the best road to recovery. Eventually, reality sets in and treatment begins, which is when many women feel better and more in control of their disease because they are actively fighting it.

Those who survive breast cancer struggle with the fear that their cancer might return. Every post-treatment checkup, mammogram and blood test is anxiety-ridden as she awaits the results.

The lowdown…don’t let breast cancer blindside you

The reality is that as you age, your risk for developing breast cancer increases. Most of us know women who have battled breast cancer. Advances in methods of detection and treatments have transformed breast cancer from what had been considered a dreaded disease—what some perceived as a death sentence—to one that most women can and do beat. In fact, when breast cancer is found at its earliest, most treatable stage, a majority of women (98 percent) will go on to live full, healthy lives after treatment. So, it’s important to keep up with recommended screenings and exams.

If you’re 40 years or older, you should get a routine mammogram. In addition to the fear of getting a suspicious mammogram result, you may also be embarrassed to bare your breasts, or perhaps you’d rather avoid the discomfort that comes with positioning and squeezing the breast to take the image. But some temporary uneasiness and minor discomfort is a small price to pay if it means detecting breast cancer early.

If you’re new to the task, ask the technician to explain what to expect. Be sure to find out when you can expect the results, so you aren’t consumed with worry if you don’t hear right away. If you are asked to come back and repeat the test, don’t be alarmed. The film may have been difficult to read. If your doctor does notice something suspicious on your mammogram, he or she may order a biopsy to remove a sample of breast tissue and examine it for cancer. To put your mind at ease, consider that four out of five biopsies will not be cancer, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s also important for you to talk with your health care provider to learn about your personal risk of developing breast cancer so that you can decide how to stay on top of your breast health. While you’re at it, ask about lung cancer and heart disease, too—these are the leading causes of death among women. And don’t forget periodic breast self exams. Many women neglect doing these exams for fear of ending up in the doctor’s office every month with a new lump and bump, but it’s important that you get to know your breasts over time so you notice any changes.

Attitude and support eases anxiety

Having breast cancer is a difficult experience. You are probably worried about the road ahead, how your diagnosis will affect the important relationships in your life and your body image, as well as family and work obligations. Seeking emotional support and maintaining a positive attitude (as best you can) will help ease your anxieties.

Here are some tips:

  • Practice the art of happiness. It may be easier said than done, but try not to get weighed down with grief and worry. Boost your spirits whenever you can by meeting a friend for lunch, writing (and referring to) inspirational messages in a journal or going for a walk in a park.
  • Join a breast cancer support group where you can share your anxieties with other women who are going through the same thing and have similar concerns. If you feel more comfortable chatting with others from the comfort of your home, there are safe message boards at sites like Breastcancer.org.
  • Don’t be afraid to express your fears to your loved ones. You’re not Superwoman, and it’s OK to share the burden. For many women, the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies.
  • Take a deep breath. If you notice that your mind is swirling with worry, try meditation or deep-breathing exercises.
  • Ask questions. Your mind may get ahead of you at times, so ask questions to make sure you aren’t worrying unnecessarily.
  • Don’t let cancer define you. You had a life before cancer, and there is life after, so don’t lose sight of who you are. Stay connected to the people and activities that are important to you.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Living with Breast Cancer: http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/living-breast-cancer

Life After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis: http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/life-after-breast-cancer-diagnosis

Breast Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/breast-cancer

Breast Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/breast-health

Cancer Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/cancer

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Keeping the pounds off (after weight loss)



Once a person loses excess weight, the next great battle is keeping those pounds off!

A recent study from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research found that people who consistently logged in to an interactive Internet version of a personal coach were able to keep the weight off.  The key word is “consistently.”

For 6 months before the trial, men and women reduced their caloric intake and exercised in an effort to shed pounds. Those who lost at least 19 pounds were randomly assigned to 3 groups for weight maintenance. One group was self-directed, another contacted a health counselor once a month, and a third group relied on an interactive website.  All of the participants were obese or overweight, and were taking medications for hypertension or high cholesterol.

Those men and women assigned to a personal coach regained the least amount of weight overall, but the ongoing expense sometimes does not make this an option.

At the end of 30 months, the people assigned to a personal coach regained on average 10 pounds, while the web site group regained 12.5 pounds and the self-directed group regained 14 pounds.

The men and women assigned to the weight-management website who visited the site once a month maintained more of their weight loss than patients who checked in sporadically.  On the Web site, participants could record their weight, caloric intake, and minutes of exercise and compare that information with the goals they had set for themselves. A bulletin board allowed them to read other peoples’ success stories and share their own, as well as get advice from experts on exercise and behavior change.

A weight-management web site appears to be a good alternative to a personal coach for those who may not be able to afford personal coaching fees.  You should look for a site where you can enter data on weight, caloric consumption, and exercise, and receive reminders if you forget to supply this information.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in J Med Internet Res. online July 27, 2010. 


New CPR Guidelines Released


The American Heart Association announces its new Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) guidelines today. Released only once every five years, these guidelines — driven by the latest in scientific research — are critical to the treatment of hundreds of thousands of cardiac arrest victims every year. The guidelines are the basis for CPR training for organizations around the globe.  

For more than 40 years, the American Heart Association has been setting the guidelines for worldwide CPR training. Today’s updated guidelines release focuses on getting more people to take action and save lives.

The facts show the importance of a ready public, trained to administer CPR:

  • Last year alone, the American Heart Association trained more than 13 million people in CPR worldwide.
  • Less than eight percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive, but immediate, effective CPR can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival.
  • Research shows that good chest compressions can help save more lives — that’s why they are now the first step in the CPR. Compressions, Airway and Breathing (C-A-B) is our new recommendation.
  • CPR resources are available at AHA website http://www.heart.org/cpr.

The release of these guidelines is a great opportunity to connect with readers of all CPR skill levels. For the novice, it could inspire them to learn the technique for the first time, take a refresher course or have the confidence to do step in and do something in an emergency. For the healthcare professional, it is an opportunity to delve into the science behind these new guidelines.

Preventing and Coping with Gynecologic Cancer


from the Reproductive and Pelvic Health Center

by Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH

Reading about gynecologic cancer is enough to send shivers down any woman’s spine.

For we define much of our womanhood through our reproductive organs, not only on a physiological basis, for example, our ovaries produce estrogen, but also in an emotional way, particularly when it comes to our womb.

But you are not powerless against these cancers. As with every type of cancer, certain lifestyle practices may help protect you. For instance, since the human papilloma virus (HPV) causes more than 90 percent of cervical cancers, and since the virus is primarily contracted through sexual intercourse, monogamy and practicing safe sex by using condoms can help reduce your risk of contracting the virus in the first place.

There is also some evidence that cigarette smoking-even exposure to secondhand smoke could contribute to cervical cancer. Yet another reason not to smoke or to quit ASAP!

With any cancer, particularly ovarian and endometrial, it is critical that you know your family history. Don’t just rely on what mom tells you, however.

If you recall several female relatives dying of “stomach problems,” dig deeper. Check the death certificate or even medical records to see if those problems might actually have been a gynecologic cancer.

Other things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Lose weight. Obesity is the leading cause of endometrial cancer. So, make weight management a priority.
  • Take birth control pills. Numerous studies find they can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer, probably by limiting the number of times you ovulate throughout your lifetime.
  • Get regular daily exercise. You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Well, the studies are pretty convincing that moderate exercise (that would be a 30- minute walk four or five days a week) reduces your risk of endometrial cancer, probably by helping regulate weight and blood sugar levels.

Now, a few words for women trying to cope with a gyn cancer: Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but a major study published in 2003 found that women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer have a poorer quality of life-defined as physical, emotional, social and functional well-being- than even women diagnosed with breast cancer .

Not only are you scared to death about your health, tired and sick from the treatments, but you’re probably also worried about your family. If you were premenopausal, suddenly being thrust into menopause carries it with it a whole host of emotional issues, not the least of which may be changes in your sexual function.

Here are a few coping tips to consider:

  • First, recognize that these feelings are perfectly normal. Also recognize that now, more than during any other time in your life, you have to take care of you. That includes such things as sleeping or resting when you’re tired -regardless of the time of day or night- eating healthfully, preferably with the guidance of a dietician experienced in cancer care-and getting some kind of physical exercise when you feel up to it, even if it’s just walking down to the mailbox.
  • Try to reframe your diagnosis in a positive manner. Use it as a reason to find a new meaning and focus in life. One major study found that such reframing, along with acceptance –defined as facing unfortunate realities that cannot be changed — resulted in greater physical, emotional and functional well-being in women one year after they were diagnosed with gynecologic cancer. Additionally, the study found that women who sought and received comfort from someone in their life led to greater social well-being and doctor-patient relationships.
  • Bottom line: turn your caregiving inward. Take care of the person who needs it most right now: you.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): www.healthywomen.org/condition/human-papillomavirus-hpv

Cervical Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/cervical-cancer

Ovarian Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/ovarian-cancer

Uterine Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/uterine-cancer

Reproductive and Pelvic Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/reproductive-and-pelvic-health

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.