Breast cancer cases increasing in Ohio with more young women facing advanced cases; here’s a survivor’s story

Breast cancer impacts over 10,000 Ohioans annually.

Breast cancer, one of the most common types of cancer in Ohio, is impacting more people with diagnosis rates increasing by 11% from 2010 to 2019, according to the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Health.

Among young adult women, local doctors are also seeing an increase in triple negative breast cancer, which has a more aggressive tumor, fewer treatment options, and worse outcomes, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Now we are seeing a younger population with advanced cancers,” said Dr. Jyothi Challa, an oncologist with Mercy Health Springfield Regional Cancer Center.

The Dayton Daily News talked to three of the Dayton region’s major health networks about the latest treatments in the fight against breast cancer, including how oncologists are using precision medicine to help guide treatment decisions. The Dayton Daily News also spoke to a local cancer survivor about the struggles patients like her continue to face both physically and mentally as they battle cancer.

Cancer continues to impact Ohioans

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Ohio and the United States, accounting for nearly one of every four deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s 2022 annual cancer report. Breast cancer and lung and bronchus cancer had the highest number of new cases in 2019 in Ohio, with more than 10,000 cases each and each representing 14.4% of all new invasive cancer cases. This is followed by prostate cancer and colon and rectum cancer, representing 12.9% and 8% of new invasive cancer cases, respectively.

Tracy Adrian, who is a breast health navigator at Mercy Health Springfield Regional Cancer Center, added that Clark and Champaign counties have the highest breast cancer diagnosis rates in the state of Ohio.

Lung and bronchus cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in Ohio in 2019, representing 25.6% of all cancer deaths, according to ODH. This was followed by colon and rectum cancer, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer at 8.4%, 8%, and 7%, respectively.

In Ohio in 2019, the diagnosis rate for female breast cancer was highest among white women at 131.8 cases per 100,000 individuals, compared with Black women with a rate of 125.1 per 100,000 and Asian/Pacific Islander women with a case rate of 96.0 per 100,000.

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among females, according to ODH. Breast cancer incidence rates in Ohio increased 11% from 2010, going from a case rate of 118.4 cases per 100,000 individuals to 131.2 per 100,000 in 2019.

Increasing lifespans are one factor in uncovering more occurrences of cancer, as well as lifestyle, environmental and dietary factors.

“Unfortunately, there are increased number of instances of cancer, not just breast, all kinds of cancer,” Challa said.

While ODH’s data did not take into account years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Challa speculated a number of women held off on getting mammograms during the pandemic, so doctors may be seeing a surge of new patients after they catch up with screenings.

A recent study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology also asks if early-onset cancer is an emerging global epidemic. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is the second largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, found cancer diagnoses in adults under the age of 50 increased in multiple countries and has been increasing since the 1990s. Increased use of cancer screening programs accounted for some of this increase, while researchers also posit risk factors like diet, lifestyle, obesity, and environmental exposures contribute to this phenomenon.

Researchers noted survivors of early-onset cancers have a higher risk of long-term health problems such as infertility, cardiovascular disease and secondary cancers. Researchers also note that with electronic records in use, future studies will be able to investigate early-life factors in relation to future health outcomes, including cancer.

Survivor: ‘I know that God is fighting for me’

The Rev. Marva Hughes, of Clayton, recently completed her post-surgery treatment at Miami Valley Hospital North in Englewood. She is beginning to transition back to her normal life.

“My experience with breast cancer has been a rollercoaster,” Hughes said, describing the anxiety she had during her treatment, as well as how she felt knocked to the ground at times.

Hughes’ experience with breast cancer began around the time of her birthday in October 2021 when she started experiencing pain. She had a mammogram a few months prior with no issues detected, but her doctor recommended her undergoing another mammogram, along with an ultrasound.

Hughes was first diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, undergoing a lumpectomy. When doctors found the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, Hughes was diagnosed with stage two.

“I had four treatments of chemotherapy and 20 days of radiation,” Hughes said.

This disrupted her everyday life. While retired, Hughes still works part-time for the Dayton Christian Center as a spiritual director and also as an assistant regional minister for the American Baptist Church. As an assistant regional minister, she worked with 10 churches in Dayton and two in Springfield.

The treatment itself was a challenge. Hughes described chemotherapy as a “horrible” experience.

“The worst day in this whole journey was Memorial Day. I was in so much pain. I had chemo three days prior,” Hughes said. “I had to call upon some women to pray with me through that day … It was so painful. I will remember that the rest of my life.”

Hughes discussed the internal grief she felt during her fight against breast cancer, which she is also detailing in a book she is writing.

“As a minister, people look to you for encouragement and support,” Hughes said, describing how she wanted to remain strong for her loved ones.

One of Hughes’ daughters, Kelly Hughes, said their lives have been in a constant state of transition ever since her mother got diagnosed with breast cancer, going from the diagnosis to the surgery and post-surgery treatments.

“It was very difficult. I’ve been a nurse 12 years, and I’m so used to taking care of everybody else, but it’s different when it’s your mother,” Kelly Hughes said.

Marva Hughes praised her network of support, which included family members, friends, and sorority sisters. “I had a huge support system of women helping women,” she said.

She also leaned on her faith for support, saying, “I know that God is fighting for me. The same way I would fight for my children, he is fighting for me.”

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