to Beating Breast Cancer: Awareness & Education
the eve of New York City’s annual Race for the Cure in Central
Park, a fundraiser so successful that it has practically become
a national event, women gathered at the Hotel Pierre on Manhattan’s
East Side to hear about recent developments in the treatment of
breast cancer from speakers representing non-profit, surgical,
pharmaceutical and financial perspectives.
In the fight against breast cancer, it seems, the two most powerful
weapons are education and money.
Salomon Smith Barney, which hosted the luncheon, presented an
achievement award to Amy S. Langer, Executive Director of the
National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations (NABCO), a national
information and education service (the Komen Foundation, in comparison,
focuses mainly on fundraising for scientific research). A 17-year
breast cancer survivor herself, Langer, like other speakers that
afternoon, drew the parallels between cancer survivors and New
Yorkers after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
cancer survivors tend to go through phases,” said Langer. “Dread,
panic, disbelief, anxiety, and finally, I think, the emergence
of a tremendous sense of strength and belonging, even though this
is the last club you had wanted to join.”
Citing the successes of women’s fight against the deadly disease—the
most common form of cancer among U.S. women—Langer reported that
the government now devotes $700 million a year to breast cancer
research, significantly more than a decade or so back, when women
began to realize that government funding for their health concerns
seemed woefully inadequate in comparison to other research grant
percent of women are now involved in screening,” said Langer,
“but for us the clock is ticking. Every three minutes a woman
in this country is diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Such statistics paint a bleak picture, yet Langer assured the
audience that there was reason for hope, both for finding a cure
and because “it’s a different breast cancer than it was for our
mothers.” Public awareness, she said, has helped to alleviate
the shame and isolation from patients’ experiences.
Dr. Rache Simmons, Professor of Surgery at Weill Medical College
of Cornell University, also presented hopeful news about new advances
in surgical treatments. Simmons and her colleagues, who use a
simple needle biopsy to diagnose breast cancer, are currently
investigating a similar treatment for cancerous growths. A needle,
no larger than a matchstick, is inserted into the breast, where
tiny wires then attach to the tumor, destroying it with heat.
Another promising procedure uses the same technology to freeze
the tumor, destroying the cells’ structure but leaving the DNA
inside the body, providing a vaccine-like protection against recurrence.
Simmons reported that this technique has already been used to
treat benign tumors, “and it works beautifully.”
Due to advances in screening–only 2 percent of patients are diagnosed
with end-stage breast cancer, with 70 percent diagnosed in stages
0 or 1–fewer and fewer women (20-25 percent, according to Simmons)
are faced with the prospect of mastectomy, which can, as Simmons
illustrated with a slide, have horribly disfiguring results. The
skin-sparing and areola-sparing mastectomies that Simmons regularly
performs improve cosmetic outcomes by leaving plastic surgeons
with a mold to reconstruct the breast’s original shape, often
with fat and skin taken from the abdomen.
Simmons photographic evidence seemed to persuade the audience.
One patient, only 25 years old when she was diagnosed, had obviously
been out in her bathing suit after the surgeries; the photograph
revealed her tan lines. Simmons strongly believes that “a reconstruction
is important for a woman of any age.”
Despite advances in treatment and surgical procedures, early detection
is still a woman’s best protection. NABCO recommends that all
women over the age of 20 have their breasts examined by a doctor
or nurse every year and do monthly self-breast exams; women over
40 should have a mammogram each year as well as an annual breast
exam by a doctor or nurse and should continue to examine their
breasts every month. Visit www.nabco.org for more information
or to sign up for their free e-mail reminder service for mammograms
and breast exams.#
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