Dr. Richardson Talks to Health Interrupted

Breast cancer is a significant concern for women and healthcare professionals, since early detection is a key factor in ensuring the best possible prognosis. Bedford Breast Center provides the highest quality care for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Heather Richardson, one of the surgeons at our medical center, was recently featured as a guest on the “Health Interrupted” podcast, hosted by celebrity personal trainer Gina Lombardi, and former Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler, to discuss risk reduction and the latest treatment options. 

How Common is Breast Cancer?

changes to your breast when turning 40Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women, second only to lung cancer, but totaling 2.3 million cases world wide, which is about 11% of all cancers. “About 280,000 women in America are going to be diagnosed with invasive cancer, and on top of that, there are going to be about another 50,000 who are going to be diagnosed with pre-invasive cancer, which still needs treatment yet is much more curable,” Richardson explained in the podcast. 

A breast cancer diagnosis can be frightening for a woman who envisions harsh treatments, mastectomies, and metastatic disease that spreads throughout the body. Fortunately, advances in medicine have produced better options for treatment, surgery, and reconstruction in recent years. Dr. Heather Richardson shines a new light on the many options for breast cancer surgeries, and quells the misconceptions about cancer and how to move forward once diagnosed. 

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Breast cancer has risk factors that can be improved, and others, like gender and genetics, that cannot be changed. Some risk factors, like drinking alcohol, obesity (especially post-menopause), lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet are lifestyle factors that increase a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Family history, age, race and ethnicity can increase cancer risk, but cannot be altered. 

Hormone use is another risk factor that generates concern among women in the menopausal years. While discussing hormone use on the podcast, Dr. Richardson stated, “If we can make something better and maybe enjoy life a little bit more in the process, and if it’s safe enough, there’s a risk-to-benefit ratio for everything.” For women who may need to use hormones following menopause, it’s best to consult with a physician to ensure that family history and a history of breast cancer are factored in to determine whether use is safe and the best dosage for each individual situation.

Reducing Your Breast Cancer Risk

Model Image of a young woman sitting in wait while her doctor is checking medical information. Used for breast exams in Beverly Hills, CA.

Dr. Richardson assures women on the podcast that there are multiple ways they can reduce the chances of breast cancer. First, she notes that mammograms should be done annually starting at age 40, with additional screenings like ultrasounds or MRIs for women with dense breasts or a strong family history. 

Additionally, there are other steps women can take to ensure that breast cancer risks remain minimal, including:

  • Drink less alcohol – 1 drink a day is considered normal, 2 is in the “safe zone”, but any more than that in one day is too much (1 drink = 14 to 15 grams of alcohol, or, an average bar drink).
  • Increase levels of Vitamin D – Consult with your physician to determine if increasing the intake of certain foods or adding supplements can help.
  • Iodine is typically removed from processed foods like crackers and breads, which is replaced with bromides; iodine is essential for the thyroid glands. Dr. Richardson warns that invasive cancers like triple negative breast cancers are linked to a lack of iodine in diets.
  • Add ground flaxseed and soy – 1 cup of soy per day (soy milk, other soy products) and 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day contribute to a healthier diet and a lower breast cancer risk.
  • Get moving – “Moving is better than not moving,” Dr. Richardson said in this podcast. Living a sedentary lifestyle lends itself to weight gain and, ultimately, obesity, which is one of the major risk factors of breast cancer that can be changed. 
  • Take a mental health break – “You need a couple of little gems to be able to pull from when you can tell that your mind is not serving you well. When thoughts are controlling you, and not you controlling them, you need to make a conscious decision to change your thinking when your thinking isn’t serving you or making you happy or healthy,” Dr. Richardson explained. 
  • Get support – Surround yourself with confident friends and family, people who can lift you up and support you. Find your happy places and don’t forget to practice emotional first aid. Learn to be appreciative, react well to emotions, and grow in a positive way. 

Some of the methods used to reduce the risk of breast cancer are tangible, but living with a positive outlook will help to create positive energy and emotions in addition to lowering your risk for disease. 

Men and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is typically associated with women, but men are not immune to this cancer. Although the statistics are quite low (1% of the total number of breast cancer diagnoses), the number of men expected to be diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer in 2021 is about 2,650. Men may not seek treatment early on as they often believe changes are caused by nothing more than a sore muscle. Some of the risk factors for breast cancer in men are similar to the risk factors for women, and include:

  • Aging
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Inherited gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Klinefelter Syndrome
  • Radiation exposure
  • Alcohol use
  • Liver disease
  • Estrogen treatment
  • Obesity
  • Testicular conditions

Men also undergo full mastectomies and other less invasive surgeries to treat breast cancer when it is diagnosed.

Innovative Breast Cancer Surgical Techniques

Dr. Richardson discovered that women are quite different when it comes to choosing how to treat breast cancer with surgery. Some opt for a full mastectomy with reconstruction that  requires additional surgeries with skin and fat grafts. Others want to do everything possible to save the breast and prolong life with other types of treatment instead of full removal of the breast.  There are also some women that choose to go with a combination of the two. Dr. Richardson likens this to the analogy of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairytale, where the porridge is not too hot or cold and the bed is not too hard or soft. There is no cookie cutter approach to treating breast cancer, so not every technique is going to work with every patient. 

The Goldilocks Mastectomy is designed to save healthy breast tissue while still removing all of the cancerous cells. What a woman is left with is the best fit, whether it’s a lumpectomy or the removal of more tissue to leave a smaller breast mound. In conjunction with Dr. Richardson’s associate, Dr. Grace Ma, they developed the Goldilocks Mastectomy that combines breast reduction and a mastectomy to produce a superior result for the right patient. 

Fat grafting involves taking fat from another area of the body using liposuction. The removed fat is then injected into areas of the breast where more volume is desired, and can be used with the Goldilocks Mastectomy for a complete look. 

The SWIM technique, or skin-sparing, wise pattern, internal mammary perforator, is a method developed by Dr. Richardson and another colleague, Dr. Lisa Cassileth, that allows the nipple to be preserved. SWIM  is an excellent option for women with larger breasts. Some of the outstanding benefits of SWIM include less surgery time and no use of implants. 

Why Choose Bedford Breast Center

Prevention. Diagnosis. Treatment. Bedford Breast Center brings compassion to women and men who receive the news of a breast cancer diagnosis. Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. The dedicated team of expert surgeons at our medical center uses innovative techniques, delivers superior care, and creates your journey to life-changing recovery. Just like the podcast “Health Interrupted”, Dr. Richardson says that breast cancer can “hijack” your life, but it doesn’t have to destroy it. Choose the best for your breasts – choose Bedford Breast Center.