ASTORIA – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Mount Sinai Queens in Astoria held the Think Pink Party on October 26 as part of the annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Though many people are aware of breast cancer, they often forget that there are ways to detect the disease in its early stages and many steps to help reduce the risk of developing the disease. A great deal of progress has been made in early detection and increasing awareness is important. Mount Sinai Queens’ Pink Party offered vital information and answered many questions for all those in attendance. The party also included a contest for the best pink outfits.
Ana M. Rodriguez, Director of Community Relations and Volunteer Services at Mount Sinai Queens welcomed everyone to the event and noted that everyone is encouraged to wear pink for breast cancer awareness especially for the Think Pink Party. Rodriguez then introduced Dr. Krystal P. Cascetta, an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Medical Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who presented a wealth of information and debunked many myths associated with the disease.
Dr. Cascetta is board certified in internal medicine and medical oncology and has been named Chief Operating Officer, Mount Sinai Queens Infusion Center where her clinical focus is on caring for patients with breast cancer, gynecologic cancer, and benign blood disorders. She works closely with her colleagues in surgical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology and internal medicine in order to provide comprehensive and integrated care to her patients. Dr. Cascetta has lectured and authored publications on solid tumors and blood disorders. She is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology.
Dr. Cascetta noted that she always wanted to be a physician but when she was 8 years old, one of her mother’s friends passed away from breast cancer, which spurred her interest in the disease and oncology. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for women and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease, she noted. Dr. Cascetta pointed out that better detection and lifestyle changes are the keys to improving outcomes for those diagnosed and for reducing the risk of developing breast cancer.
The presentation included a brief look at the anatomy of the breast, the tissues, and the ducts where breast cancer develops. Dr. Cascetta spoke about the role of hormones and the HER2 protein, as well as mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. The first myth that breast cancer runs in families is not entirely true, while family history may increase the risk of developing the disease, lifestyle and environment accounts for most cases. Women with family history may want to consider genetic counseling to get a more accurate assessment of their risk of developing the disease.
The risk factors for breast cancer are age- 61 is the average age for the diagnosis, weight- fat cells make estrogen which increases the risk, poor diet- processed foods, sugar, and even soy products which have plant-like estrogen increase risk, lack of exercise, ethnic origin- those of Ashkenazi background have an increased risk, alcohol use- more than 1 drink a day increases a woman’s risk of the disease, smoking, hormone replacement therapy, early menarche/late menopause, radiation exposure, and dense breasts which make it harder to see the small calcifications that can lead to breast cancer.
Another myth that there is nothing that can be done to lower the risk is also false. Exercise and a good, nutrient-rich diet can lower the risk. Medications are also available and being developed to help lower the risk for women in the high risk category. Other myths that were debunked, that regular mammograms prevent breast cancer- they can catch the disease early, but do not prevent it; breast cancer surgery and biopsies can spread the disease- not true, Dr. Cascetta noted, pointing out the different types of biopsies that can be done, none of which spread the disease; and chemotherapy and radiation therapy are more harmful than helpful- they actually save lives and have increased survival rates especially as more advancements are made in targeted treatments to individual patients. There is no one size fits all for breast cancer treatment since there are different types that require different treatment. Dr. Cascetta observed that tumors are “profiled” and tested for DNA, so doctors can learn as much about the type it is as possible and what course of treatment to follow. Some patients may require chemotherapy and radiation therapy as well as medication for a year after treatment, while others may require some but not all of those treatments.
Questions from the audience followed Dr. Cascetta’s presentation which offered additional insights into the risks and treatments. Dr. Cascetta noted that pregnancy reduces the risk as does breastfeeding and when asked if sugar does indeed “feed cancer,” she noted that it does feed the monster. Among those present at the event were Caryn A. Schwab- Executive Director of Mount Sinai Queens, Jill Goldstein- head of Nursing at Mount Sinai Queens, hospital staff, partner organizations Cancer Care and Sharing & Caring, as well as many members of the community and breast cancer survivors.