Breast Cancer here, in Iowa City

Breast Cancer – How you can become aware here at University of Iowa.

Chelsea Stanley creating awareness on campus

Your body is built to protect you and fix yourself. It’s your personal bouncer and it’s like your mother in the sense it takes care of you. But what happens when a foreign mutation comes in the body?

How cancer happens

Keri Mercer, a Cancer Information Specialist at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, explains that your body has a kill switch. When cells divide, sometimes the mutations divides and that shut off the kill switch.

“The cell has orders to die if it can’t fix itself,” Kerr Mercer explains, “With cancer, if the mutation happens and the kill switch is off, it will grow and divide. And that is how a tumor begins. [It is] more common when we are older because our cells have been dividing more often.”

This is why cancer is more rare in younger women, because younger women’s’ cells haven’t been dividing as long. When breast cancer does happen to women under 30 or so, it’s usually because of genetics.

“Genetic links are not as common as we think. The reality sees that only 5-10% of cancers are genetically linked,” Mercer said. “Usually where that comes from is often time we don’t understand that there are so many types of cancer.”

Testing and  awareness

Breast cancer as well has different types, even if you take two women who both have breast cancer and are in the same stage; they may have a different type of cancer than each other.

Here in Iowa City, the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics reaches out to the community to try to help them understand cancer and how to catch symptoms. Sometimes some organizations contact them and ask them to come and speak about a certain cancer.

Because there are so many different types of cancer, the UIHC tries to focus on the cancer involved in the cancer awareness month. For example, breast cancer is the main focus for the month of October, as it is everywhere else.

“There has been a lot of awareness done with primary care doctors,” Mercer said. “Most of the are educated to make sure their patients are getting screened.”

Recently, the protocol for women getting mammograms has changed. It used to be women were advised to get them once they turned 40 years old, now it is 50 years old.

“Some [doctors] saw some data that there are false positives. To reduce risk they changed the age range to 50 and up,” Mercer said. “There are still arguments against it. We typically tell patients to start talking to docs to see when to start mammograms.”

Mercer said they are waiting to do testing later because breast tissue is different. When younger the tissue is denser, which makes it harder to see cancer cells.

Genetic Testing

For younger women there is no screening. Mercer says that if you are in a high risk family and have women in the family who diagnosed younger than 40 – they look at your history and recommend the patient who had/has the cancer, get testing done to see if he/she has a mutation (because of insurance). Doctors tend to tell the patients to have the person with the cancer to be tested for the gene and if its positive then see if the person with the mutation has it and if has it there are some things to think about doing from there.

Chelsea Stanley, a junior here at UI, has a long history of breast cancer being common in her family.

“No, I’m not going to get tested for the gene because it’s expensive,” Stanley said. “And having the gene doesn’t mean you’re going to get breast cancer…and not having the gene doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it either. However, getting mammograms, yes, that I’ll do. And feel my boobies of course.”

Mercer says that the awareness not only comes from families, and family history or knowing someone with breast cancer, but it also comes from primary care doctors. Ask you primary care doctors about symptoms, have them check something if you think it is suspicious and they can also refer you to more information or a doctor who may be a specialist in cancer.

What you can do

Here at University of Iowa, student may make an appointment with Student Health Services to speak with a doctor or to get something checked out. They also may have some extra information. University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics also have a lot of resources available to students.

In Johnson County, there have been 342 cases of breast cancer from 2003-2007 according to the Iowa Cancer Registry, 42 of which have died from it.

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