October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know? The Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Sinai Health was the first dedicated breast cancer centre in Canada. It now treats more than 34,000 women annually. Breast health is very important; breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women and the second-leading cause of death from cancer. Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley, Medical Director of the Cancer Program at Sinai Health and director, Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre answers your top questions about how to protect your health while also navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Does COVID-19 pose additional health risks to individuals undergoing treatment for breast cancer?
Patients on active chemotherapy or targeted therapy can be more immune suppressed, posing a risk for more severe illness if you’re infected with the virus. We encourage all our patients to be double vaccinated and, as of September, a third booster shot will be provided to improve the antibody response.
Is it safe for me to get the vaccine if I’m currently being treated for breast cancer?
Yes, it is safe. There have been no serious adverse events noted with patients on active breast cancer therapy.
Has treatment changed for patients requiring care for breast cancer during the pandemic?
Yes, in some ways the treatment has changed. Screening was delayed but is now being ramped up. Surgeries were also delayed at the height of the pandemic, but there are no further delays currently. However, as a result of delays, we pivoted and started pre-operative therapy to eligible patients. Active chemotherapy was not delayed and patients were seen within our two week referral timeline. There also has been a greater use of virtual care, which I anticipate will continue even post-pandemic, especially when it’s a check-in with patients to see how they are tolerating their treatment.
Will I experience delays for things like surgeries and imaging and how might this effect my outcome?
Today, there are no further delays. As mentioned, aggressive breast cancers or advanced disease did not have any significant delays. Patients were properly and timely managed, investigated and treated. We continued to discuss all patients at our multidisciplinary cancer conferences to provide the best treatment approach. As a result of the pandemic, we will be monitoring outcomes during that time period and we look forward to seeing the data that will be coming from this. The biggest concern has been that women did not want to come for their annual screens for fear of contracting the virus, and unfortunately, we’re hearing that some are still too concerned and are not coming in.
What key piece of advice do you have for women when it comes to their breast health?
Continue to be your own advocate for your health. Have a well-balanced diet, exercise and take care of your mental health. This pandemic has been stressful for all, including us health care providers. It’s important to continue with your mammography screens, self-examination, and if you have any concerns, seek medical attention with your family provider, or if you are a breast cancer survivor, you can engage with your cancer care team.
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