Saturday, November 6, 2004

Local survivors: 'Take charge'


Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer focuses attention

By Peggy O'Farrell
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Connie Hudson, a breast cancer survivor, talks to a class at Turpin High School about breast cancer awareness.
The Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
When Connie Hudson found a lump in her breast six years ago, her doctor dismissed it. She found a new doctor, who diagnosed the lump as cancer.

Cathy Halloran did self-breast exams every month. Usually, everything was fine. But nine days after she found a lump in a breast in June 2001, she underwent a mastectomy.

Breast cancer survivors and physicians agree: Self-breast exams used in conjunction with routine mammograms and physician exams are valuable tools in catching cancer early.

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of North Carolina senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, was diagnosed with breast cancer Wednesday, the day her husband and Sen. John Kerry conceded the election to President Bush.

The 55-year-old underwent a biopsy that day after finding a lump in her right breast.

"I almost wish I could get in touch with her and talk to her," Halloran said. .

INCIDENCE BY AGE
A woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 7. The risk of developing invasive breast cancer increases as she gets older:
Birth to age 39: 1 in 229 women will develop invasive breast cancer.
40-59: 1 in 24 women will develop invasive breast cancer.
60-79: 1 in 13 women will develop invasive breast cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society
2003 STATISTICS
Roughly 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the United States, and some 40,000 women die of the disease every year. Here are breast cancer statistics from 2003:
Kentucky
New cases: 4,700.
Deaths: 600.
Ohio
New cases: 9,900.
Deaths: 1,900.
Survival rates for breast cancer vary by age and how far the cancer has spread. Average five-year survival rates for breast cancer in 2003:
86 percent for all cases.
97 percent for local cancers (invasive cancer contained to the area of origin).
78 percent for regional cancers (cancer that has spread beyond the area of origin to adjoining tissues or organs, or to surrounding lymph nodes or both).
23 percent for distant cancers (cancer that has spread to parts of the body remote from the primary lesion, e.g., from the breast to the spinal column).
Source: American Cancer Society
Halloran, 49, of Highland Heights, is a volunteer for the American Cancer Society and talks to high school students about the importance of regular mammograms and self breast exams. A woman's risk of developing breast cancer increases as she gets older, but women in their 20s can get the disease.

Halloran says it's important for young women to take charge of their health.

Routine screening mammograms are the "gold standard" for detecting breast cancer. Some physicians and organizations say self-exams are unnecessary, said Dr. Susan Weinberg, a diagnostic radiologist and medical director of the Bethesda North Center for Breast Care in Montgomery.

But about once a month, Weinberg sees women whose cancers were detected during manual exams after being missed on mammograms.

"We saw a woman... with a palpable mass that wasn't picked up by mammogram, and it was a large malignancy," she said.

"(Self-exams) are free, they're easy to learn and they raise women's awareness about their bodies and their breast health, so why wouldn't you do it?" Weinberg asked.

Amy Voris, a clinical nurse specialist, teaches women how to perform self-breast exams at the Breast Center at the University of Cincinnati's Barrett Cancer Center.

It's simple to perform the exams, Voris says, but some women are uncomfortable with the process.

The majority of lumps and bumps women find are benign, Voris says. But by performing the self-exams monthly, women become familiar enough with their bodies to recognize changes.

Hudson, 45, of West Chester established a local chapter of the Sisters Network, a national organization dedicated to educating African-American women about breast cancer risks and prevention strategies.

"We try to encourage these women to take control of their health," Hudson said.

Older African-American women are often reluctant to talk about breast cancer, and many are afraid to undergo screening mammograms, she said.

"When I found the lump, it was at stage 2, and there are only four stages," Halloran said. "Had I ignored it, it would have gotten worse."

E-mail pofarrell@enquirer.com




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