Early Detection Key to Survive Breast CancerBy Sandra Knispel | Published 26 Oct 2011 07:54pm |
While new treatments for breast cancer are able to save the lives of many women, not finding the cancer in time still remains a killer. MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, 400 Mississippi women are expected to die this year of breast cancer.
To most a nice, hot shower is simply relaxing. For Valorie Rogers Ott it proved a lifesaver. In 2007, whilst showering after a regular swimming session, the then 38-year old mother of three teenage daughters found something that didn’t feel right.
“I found a lump in my left breast.”
The Oxonian went straight for a mammogram, then an ultrasound. Biopsies followed.
“I had advanced stage aggressive cancer," says Ott. "And because I had aggressive cancer I had the full spectrum of treatment. I had a double mastectomy, a total axillory node dissection, chemo therapy, six weeks of radiation, five days a week.”
Now, Ott has been cancer free for four years. But many are not as lucky. Fellow Oxonian Jeanne Lippincott lost her close friend Caroline in 2001. Caroline, whose last name Lippincott opted to withhold to protect her dead friend’s privacy, had wanted to get pregnant. Prior to moving to Mississippi, Caroline, then just 31, had seen a doctor for a full physical, telling him specifically that she had felt a small pea-size lump in one breast.
“And he felt of it and told her, 'This is not what cancer feels like. You are too young to have cancer. Go ahead and get pregnant. You’re fine.’ “
But she wasn’t. Quite the contrary, the extra hormones produced by pregnancy stimulated the cancer.
“And when she was done nursing, noticed that she had more like an egg-sized lump in that breast, in the same place," Lippincott recalls. "And it was stage three cancer. She spent the next year in chemo and radiation and then passed away.”
Caroline’s daughter was just two and a half when her mom died at age 35, still five years away from what should have been her first routine mammogram at age 40.
About 400 Mississippians are expected to die of breast cancer this year alone, that’s roughly 40,000 women in the entire United States. Lippincott, who cried several times during our interview, hopes that by telling her friend’s story other women will insist on a mammogram when they feel something suspicious.
Early detection is key, agrees Dr. Lucio Miele, the director of the Cancer Institute at the University of Mississippi Medical Center:
"Because the chance of survival changes fairly dramatically with tumor stage. If a tumor is caught early in what is called stage zero, which is called in situ or stage 1, chances of survival are over 90 percent. That goes down to less than 50 percent for stages 3 b and 3c and 15 percent for stage 4."
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. While white women are more likely to develop breast cancer after age 45, their African American counterparts are more likely to die of the disease at any age. But the two most significant risk factors for all, regardless of race, are simply being a woman and growing older.
“Family history is one of the most important risk factors," Miele explains. "However, risk factors don’t necessarily mean you will get breast cancer, and not having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you won’t get breast cancer.”
That’s why breast cancer activists warn against counting yourself safe just because you’re healthy, eat well, don’t smoke, and have no family history.
“In fact, the majority of breast cancers that are diagnosed are found in people who have no family history of breast cancer,” says Dr. Miele.
Consider that statistically, one in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Having a first-degree relative with the disease automatically doubles your chances. For Valorie Ott, who to this day still undergoes daily therapy for lymphedema, a side effect of her cancer, life has now taken on a different meaning.
“I had aggressive treatment and it saved my life. And I’m extremely thankful and grateful," Ott says. "You know, every day above ground is a good day. Just that I wake up and get to look at my children, and talk to my husband, and take my dog for a walk.”
Ott’s advice to women is simple: See your doctor once a year for a breast exam and perform a self exam the first of every month. That’s an easy date to remember. The shower, she swears, is a really good place for that.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.
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