Patient Information Sessions Focus on Breast Cancer in October

Dr. Colleen McCarthy

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) held two Information Sessions for breast cancer patients, caregivers, and those at increased risk for the disease. These sessions were an opportunity for the cancer-concerned community to hear directly from MSK experts and get their most pressing questions answered.

The first information session focused on Breast Cancer, Exercise and Nutrition. The panel was moderated by Neil Iyengar, MD, a medical oncologist at MSK with a specific research focus on the links between metabolic health and cancer. It featured specialists in Medical Oncology, Surgery, Exercise Physiology and Nursing. Topics ranged from specific dietary guidance, to post-treatment exercise regimens, and the role genetics plays in breast cancer prevention and treatment.

 “There are numerous observation studies or population studies, showing that women who participate in regular exercise before their cancer diagnosis and women who participate in exercise after treatment were less likely to have their cancer come back or have a recurrence. There are also studies that have shown women who participate in exercise either before treatment or after treatment were less likely to die from breast cancer,” said Jessica Scott, PhD, exercise physiology researcher in MSK’s Exercise Oncology Service. “If we look at all these studies together, they really highlight the importance of not only diet but also exercise in preventing breast cancer, preventing recurrence and improving survival years following a breast cancer diagnosis.”

“A lot of us have heard of the BRCA one and two mutations, which are the most common that we see. But there are now a number of identified genes that if a woman is born with this abnormal gene, can increase the likelihood of developing a breast cancer or other types of cancer,” said Melissa Pilewskie, MD, a breast surgeon and director of MSK’s RISE Program for individuals at increased risk of developing breast cancer. “Knowing this information becomes really powerful. Because if we can identify this prior to a cancer diagnosis, it really impacts what we do for screening or in terms of what our options for risk reduction are.”

The second information session MSK hosted was on the topic of Breast Reconstruction. The panel consisted of surgeons, mental health experts, and advanced practice providers. It was moderated by Carrie Stern, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at MSK. The panelists answered questions around breast reconstruction options, latest techniques, how to navigate emotionally through that part of the treatment journey, and complications to be aware of.

“Breast reconstruction is absolutely a personal choice. We say that reconstructive surgery is elective by nature which means that women can elect or choose to go through with the process. And will do so, of course, based on their different values, preferences, tolerance for risk and ultimately their individual goals. And really here there is no wrong answer. In fact, for some women the right answer may be no reconstruction at all,” said Colleen McCarthy, MD, reconstructive surgeon at MSK. “But for women who do choose to proceed with breast reconstruction or having their breasts rebuilt after mastectomy, they do have several options for how it can be done.”

“The opportunity for women to see such caring, intelligent, informed, experienced people who are there to help them go through their rehabilitation after breast surgery is such a rewarding experience for patients and helps relieve an enormous amount of anxiety,” added Mary Jane Massie, a psychiatrist at MSK who specifically works with breast cancer patients.

MSK plans to continue these Patient Information Sessions on a regular basis to help address concerns from our larger community on a variety of cancer-related issues. Information on upcoming sessions and a recording of previous sessions can be heard on our website here.