Mrs. PL, 22 years of shared life with breast cancer, or the fight from a fierce “NO” to a half-hearted “YES.”

Testimony from the practice of Dr. M. Granger, Senologist, October 2, 2021

February 1999: Mrs. PL, 58 years old, consulted for a nodule in her right breast, which had existed for two years, but which had recently undergone an inflammatory change. Clinically this nodule is typically a sebaceous cyst located on her right breast.

However, the mammogram showed, in addition to an oval subcutaneous opacity very well limited and in agreement with the clinical diagnosis, a cluster of punctiform and dusty calcifications, at a distance from this nodule, distributed in half a dozen small foci with numerous tight elements, without densification or associated architectural distortion. The conclusion of this first encounter, for a benign pattern, is the probable presence of a "right retro-mammary intraductal carcinoma, a histology is necessary."

As this lady was followed by a homeopathic doctor who was very close to his patients, no instructions for treatment were given, except for the conclusion reported above. Without any news during the following months, I wrote to my colleague: Mrs. PL was indeed undergone surgery, and the answer was "positive."

Having obtained the operative and histological reports, I learned that it was a 6 mm infiltrating ductal carcinoma, with more than 2 mm clean surgical margins. The peripheral intra-ductal contingent had fine regular calcifications, and it comes into contact with the limits of the excision. The second stage dissection (no initial extemporaneous examination, as this was a simple surgical biopsy of micro-calcifications [we were in 1999]), associated with the resection of the tumor bed, showed: no tumor residue and a negative dissection of the 3 layers (0/15).

September 1999: first postoperative follow-up at 6 months. This examination was satisfactory, with a trivial area of steatonecrosis at the surgical site. A new appointment is given at 6 months, classical surveillance.

June 2000: follow-up 14 months after the initial surgery.

Mrs. PL stated that she had not consulted an oncologist. She was afraid of radiation and would not do it, advised by her homeopathic doctor, who considered it useless to do radiation "for nothing" as the results of the tumour bed resection and curage were normal.

Mrs. PL will then scrupulously return, every year in June, for 12 years. In 2011, she informed me that she was getting divorced. The following year the imaging was transformed: a micro opacity, not significant until then, doubled in volume, appeared spiculated, and measured 6 mm on ultrasound. Same breast, close to the initial bed. The cytopunction immediately shows a cellular mass characteristic of carcinoma, and it is, therefore, a recurrence in situ. Reoperation is necessary.

July 2012: Mrs. PL chooses not to see her initial surgeon again and to consult a Parisian celebrity. The surgery performed in July 2012 will be limited to a "large quadrantectomy," as the patient refused the recommended mastectomy. Despite this, the histology of the surgical specimen is... negative: the pathologist did not find any tumor proliferation.

October 2012: when Mrs. PL comes back for a new postoperative check-up at 3 months, I discover this "discrepancy": I question - Mrs. PL also finds out, and I end up choking... Because I have absolute faith in my puncture method and the accurate reading of my cytopathologist, trained at the Zajdela school of the Curie Institute: where is the error? The MRI will show the persistence of an intense and early enhancement corresponding to the sought-after lesion. My ultrasound found the mitotic gap, unchanged, of 6 mm. The conclusion is evident with a sigh: the lesion has remained in place.

November 2012: the patient is then reoperated in the same Parisian clinic: "right hemi-mastectomy," taking away the spotting hook. One could see in this hemi-mastectomy either a certain " broadness " of the surgeon, perhaps embarrassed by this involuntary reoperation, or a poorly mastered spotting technique? What is certain is that the histological analysis still does not show the tumour lesion but rather ordinary inflammatory changes. This recurrent discordance still does not raise any metaphysical question.

April 2013: new control examination, difficult. The breast is disfigured, the scar is stuck after a very large postoperative hematoma. Doubt about the persistence of the initial anomaly, still at the union of the external quadrants of the right breast. A new MRI will, however, come back normal. OUF, the tribulations of this cancer seem to be over (?), but with the bitter taste of not having understood everything: where did this 6 mm tumor disappear?

October 2013: six months later, Mrs. PL reveals that she is being followed in Belgium and taking 2LC1-N to support her immunity. She will, however, accept my regular follow-up.

May 2016: I see her regularly, every year now. In May 2016, she reported a small intradermal granule at the union of the external quadrants of the right breast, thus always in the exact localization. The cytology is... stubbornly malignant. This time, a bit tired of all these missteps, I explain loud and clear that the choices made have not solved the problem and that it would be appropriate to do a "real" mastectomy associated with a radiotherapy of the chest wall. This opinion is confirmed by the Faculty (University Hospital of P...). However, Mrs. PL continues to refuse both the micro biopsy and the mastectomy.

September 2016: under pressure from another university hospital (T...), Mrs. PL will accept the biopsy removal of her nodule: the carcinoma is this time infiltrating ductal carcinoma is well stamped, the hormone receptors are strongly positive. A mastectomy was scheduled: it was refused, as was hormone therapy. As well as radiotherapy, once again.

March 2017: the nodule will recur again, after its localized removal, at the same place... A new puncture (malignant) will finally convince the patient... A simple mastectomy, without radiotherapy, will eventually be performed in May 2017, that is to say, 18 years after the first lumpectomy, and three "conservative" operations which had already largely damaged the breast...

October 2020: three and a half years later. After this (final?) episode, Mrs. PL is doing well; she is now 80 years old, she remains a gentle and pleasant person. She is getting used to her mastectomy scar. She never had a word of doubt about her Parisian surgeon or pathologist, nor about the successive disfigurements that were imposed on her.

This observation has several salient points, to say the least: what can we learn from it for the Defense and Illustration of Senology?

1- How can we respond to this homeopathic colleague who wonders about the interest of radiotherapy "for nothing"?

First of all: that there is no "nothing" since his patient has invasive cancer, certainly not very locally developed, at least in appearance. But can one know in advance and with certainty the evolutionary potential of cancer? History has proven its high potential for recurrence.

Secondly, the fact that the surgical margins were healthy at the initial surgery was undoubtedly good news. Still, it did not in any way prejudge the biological reality, which was inaccessible to the pathologist. The notion of the carcinogenesis field confronts us with this obvious fact: in 2021, we still cannot know the biological boundaries of a carcinogenesis process. Surgery is, therefore, necessarily approximate.

In the context of conservative treatment, radiotherapy is the preferred weapon to drastically reduce the incidence of local recurrence, which would otherwise be almost systematic. In summary: conservative surgical treatment should necessarily be associated with adjuvant radiotherapy.

Finally, we must agree with this colleague that the patients of a homeopathic doctor always have great "faith" in the method and that his doubts have fed, knowingly or unknowingly, the phobia of the X-ray of Mrs. PL.

2- Like everything else, this history must follow a logical pattern: if a diagnosis of malignant recurrence has been made and the histology of the operative specimen is normal, there is a contradiction and, therefore, an error somewhere, which must be resolved. This error can be the initial diagnosis (false positive of one of the techniques used...), the operative methodology (location of the area to be biopsied, topography/extent of the sample...), or the histological analysis itself (identification difficulties, number of slices taken... [cuts every 5 mm may miss the smallest tumors]).

Unfortunately, this investigation was not done after the first recurrence... This case was not the judiciary, so we will not know the end of the story.

A word about the initial diagnosis: it did not include a micro biopsy which, as we know, has become the grail of oncologists, because the patient refuses it. However, it must be admitted that fine-needle aspiration, a straightforward technique, usually provides very rich and unambiguous cytology for a trained cytopathologist. I do not know of any false positives in my experience. In this story, all the cytologies were characteristic, and the final diagnosis proved them correct. So it was not the initial diagnosis that was wrong.

3- The constant attitude of Mrs. PL questions us, the physicians, on the level of risk we place on our patients. A very anxious and/or very enterprising radiologist, who wishes to macrobiopsy the slightest grouping of microcalcifications (without waiting for the test of minimal surveillance, which would make it possible to judge their change), and Mrs. PL, who waited until the 4th local recurrence to be persuaded, merely to undertake the recommended treatment, are living in radically opposed and incompatible medical worlds.

4- It did come to your attention that Mrs. PL's first recurrence appeared the year after her divorce. In contrast, the first 12 years of her follow-up had gone smoothly, despite an incomplete initial treatment, radiotherapy having been rejected. Once again, cancer is shown in its true light, that of a psycho-somatic disease, the psyche being most often the initiator/accelerator of this process.

Cancer Rose Commentary

We would add another lesson from this observation, and that is "the lesson of humility."

Women are often made to feel the urgency of the situation as soon as a cancerous lesion is diagnosed as if every minute counts. Everyone is running, busy, panicking; we must act, react, operate as quickly as possible! However, in this case, the patient has been living with cancer for years, and she has reached the age of 80 without losing her life!

So it's never too late to do the right thing; it's never too late to treat and cure.

So, where is the urgency in which we propel the diagnosed women? If the cancer is metastatic, it is so immediately; in most cases, it is clear that there is no need to panic women as we do, and we are not a minute away. Yes, we can sometimes give ourselves time for surveillance (the ACR3 classifications (simple surveillance) have almost disappeared; in our emergency, we immediately consider taking samples and performing interventions).

Yes, we must treat, of course, but without panicking! Cancer does not metastasize in 5 minutes (unless it has already done so, and in that case, we are a step behind); it does not kill on the spot; we are not going to die tomorrow!

This case shows us the humility that the medical profession should have and shows us that it is necessary to leave the 'panic' and the 'emergency' that we inflict on women when we find them cancer, giving them the impression of imminent death, but that we are going to save their life because we have been quick.

The fate of the patients is not in our hands as great "saviors." It is never "too late" to treat and heal.

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