Few words inspire such fear in women as, “you have breast cancer.”
Even with advances in modern medicine, about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with this disease and some will die from it. But within her lifetime, Charleston medical oncologist Dr. Ashley Jeter hopes to see a day cancer and its fears are permanently in the past.
“The best part of my job is being a part of a patient’s cure, and I have witnessed incredible miracles during my career,” said Dr. Jeter, a partner with Charleston Oncology in North Charleston. “However, I feel equally honored to care for patients for whom a cure is not yet possible.”
Committed to delivering the highest quality of cancer care, Dr. Jeter specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy and hormonal, biological and targeted therapy. She not only educates her patients on every kind of available treatment but on every preventive measure to keep their risk as low as possible.
“I encourage women to begin breast cancer screening at age 40,” she said. “But each woman should discuss this with her doctor since it may be an earlier age for some.”
Her recommendation comes regardless of family history, heredity and predisposition – as only around “5% to 10% of breast cancers are the result of genetic mutations passed down from a parent.”
“About 90% to 95% of breast cancers have no hereditary link,” she said. “Thus, even without a family history, every woman is recommended to begin screening for breast cancer with a mammogram or other imaging modalities – MRI, ultrasound – at the appropriate age. And as more patients undergo genetic testing, more information about hereditary risk is being gathered.”
So what can women do on their own to reduce their risk of breast cancer?
Dr. Jeter offered five tips:
- Maintain a healthy weight – Excess weight and obesity, especially after menopause, increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and can worsen outcomes after a diagnosis at any age.
- Eat a healthy diet – Focus on fiber-rich plants and reduce the amount of animal fat and processed foods you eat.
- Eliminate or severely limit alcohol consumption – Research has shown that two to three alcoholic beverages a day can increase the risk of breast cancer by as much as 20%.
- Know your family history – If you are at high risk for breast cancer, you might consider taking preventive medications such as tamoxifen.
- Increase physical activity – Strive for at least 30 minutes every day. “Any activity that you enjoy that increases your heart rate is great,” Dr. Jeter said.
There is no guarantee that any of these steps will prevent breast cancer, but Dr. Jeter said they are still every woman’s best bet – especially since opposing factors such as smoking and obesity have been proven to carry far more risk.
“Everything in medicine is a risk versus a benefit,” she said. “And we’re doing the very best we can to offer more benefit than risk.”
That risk, however, has been steadily rising in the past five decades.
While the fight against all forms of cancer has made many strides, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that breast cancer now accounts for approximately 30% of all reported cancer cases among women.
And researchers at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, have been concerned for a long time at the alarming levels of breast cancer incidences in the United States over the past 52 years. For example, in 1970, new breast cancer cases numbered 68,000. In 1980, this number rose to 110,000 new cases, then rose by almost the same rate in 1990 to 150,000 , then again in 2000 to 182,000 and in 2010 to 207,090.
By 2014, the number of new breast cancer cases in women reached more than 232,000 – a 242% increase from 1970.
Dr. Jeter is determined to reverse this trend – especially as new treatments become available during “a vulnerable, scary time in a patient’s life.”
“They often look to me for not only clinical knowledge but for hope – and it’s a privilege to be in that position,” she said. “Having a trusted ally who can help you navigate your personal history, family history, lifestyle modifications, medications and screening or diagnostic tests is invaluable. I am confident that the future holds even more promise for women diagnosed with breast cancer. And I am excited to be a part of it.”
For more information on Charleston Oncology and Dr. Ashley Jeter, visit charlestononcology.com.
By L. C. Leach III