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Awareness Is Fine, But Now It's Time to Find the Cause, Says Breast Cancer Guru Dr. Susan Love

Dayton Daily News


DAYTON -- When renowned breast cancer expert Dr. Susan Love visited Dayton a year ago as the featured speaker at the Ribbon of Hope luncheon, she pleaded with audiences to join her Love/Avon Army of Women project designed to eradicate the dreaded disease.

The innovative initiative seeks women who are willing to consider volunteering for breast cancer research. Many, including women from the Miami Valley, have heeded that call. According to Love, 338,000 women have signed on to help.

We invited the author of "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book," to provide an update. In October, says Dr. Love, she knows just how an accountant must feel in April.

Q What do you think about The National Breast Cancer Coalition's recent announcement calling for an end to breast cancer by January 1, 2020?

Dr. Love I think it's great, they're right. Breast cancer research and awareness has become a big business but we've lost sight of the goal which is to end the disease. I don't think the goal is the cure because with these cures comes a lot of collateral damage.

I think women are getting kind of sick of the pink wash and all the pink and not seeing any big changes. Now we've outgrown the awareness message and it's time for women to rise up again and say awareness is fine, but it's time to get rid of the disease altogether. After 20 years, we still don't know the cause. The answer is to find the cause itself.

Q What's happening with the Army of Women?

Dr. Love We've participated in 40 studies. Some were about the quality of life after breast cancer. For instance, what women were being told about fertility. Younger women on chemo can lose their fertility, but they can freeze their eggs or embryos if they are told about it. More recently, there's a study in Chicago looking at how bacteria in the gut metabolizes estrogen.

Q What are some things a woman can do to prevent or decrease her risk of getting breast cancer?

Dr. Love We don't have prevention at this point, but exercise is the big one. It has been shown -- in good randomized studies -- to reduce the risk of getting a breast cancer and the risk of recurrence. You gotta break a sweat, 30 minutes a day, three or four days a week. The issue of weight is more important in post- menopausal women.

Avoid unnecessary radiation. Don't have X-rays or CAT scans unless you need them and they make a difference in your treatment. Radiation is cumulative and increases breast cancer.

If you have a choice, have your children at a younger age, ideally under 35. We have data that shows early pregnancy is protective. And avoid postmenopausal hormones.

Q What are some of the first things you should do when you find out you have breast cancer?

Dr. Love First, take a deep breath. This is not an emergency. It doesn't spread overnight. When somebody is diagnosed, we try to figure out whether cells have already gotten out or not and spread to the rest of the body. Having breast cancer in your breast will not kill you. What kills you is having breast cancer in other more important organs.

You don't have to make a decision right away.

Decisions you make in a panic tend to be based totally on fear, and that's not a good thing. Bring a tape recorder to all of your appointments because you can't hear everything. If your doctor doesn't like that, you have the wrong doctor.

A spouse taking notes isn't the answer because the spouse is nervous also. Your job is to relax and listen to what's being said. When I was in practice at UCLA, we gave everyone a tape.

Next, get a second opinion. Breast cancer treatment is much more complicated than it was 20 years ago when the choice was lumpectomy and radiation versus mastectomy. The menu is so extensive and things are always changing. It's important to get a second opinion and make sure you are dealing with someone who is an expert in breasts. If two good doctors disagree, get a third opinion.

Q What's else is new?

Dr. Love We're changing the way we think about things. The concept of early detection is being reevaluated since cancer biology has revealed that not all cancers are the same and that you can have cancer cells that are dormant and do not need treatment. Right now, mammography screening especially in women over 50 is the best we have but what we really need is to find the cause.

Today we know there are different kinds of breast cancers -- at least six -- some are more aggressive, some easier to find, and they should not all be treated the same because they don't respond the same. Tests can be done to figure this all out. You need to understand exactly what you have and get the right treatment for that cancer.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2440 or [email protected]

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