A breast cancer diagnosis is usually the start of a complicated and expensive journey into medical technology.
But what if the work to save your life involved just a minor surgery and a pill, instead of a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy?
That’s a question being raised by doctors around the world, and may be answered next week at the 35th annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Mary Ann Murray is a firecracker of energy at 73-years-old. A diagnosis of breast cancer hasn't stopped her one minute.
“In the beginning, I was scared that it was going to be cancer,” said Murray. “It was cancer, but they caught it in time. And that's what made me happy about it.”
Murray had a non-invasive and common form of breast cancer. Her treatment for ductal carcinoma in situ, also referred to as DCIS, was just a lumpectomy and a hormone pill. Murray did not have to experience the toll of a mastectomy, chemotherapy or radiation.
“Her risk was already low enough without that, so she avoided all those trips back and forth and a lot of things that logistically would have been a big headache for her,” said Dr. Richard Crownover, a radiation oncologist.
Murray also avoided the financial cost.
According to Crownover, advances in mammograms mean more cases of DCIS are getting diagnosed. Now, Crownover said, doctors are working to find out how much treatment is necessary.
"We've gotten better about our choices for chemotherapy. Now we are trying to do better with our choices about treatment at all, or treatment with radiation. Sometimes maybe just a lumpectomy will be enough,” said Crownover.
The discussion of how to treat DCIS is going to leave a clinical setting next week, Crownover said.
“There will be a huge symposium with 7,500 doctors from around the world who are going to take on the subject,” said Crowner.
For good reason, the conference is expected to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.
"One in eight women will get that diagnosis, so being able to determine very quickly who needs very extensive treatment and who doesn't, has a major impact both economically and on peace of mind,” said Crownover.
The doctor will lead the discussions at the symposium, which runs from December 4th through the 8th at the Henry B Convention Center.
For a list of recent stories by Ursula Pari, click here.