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Mitch Edelman: Act to reduce breast cancer risk

Last weekend, my wife and I got away for the first time in a long time. We drove to Cumberland for a train ride into the mountains and to enjoy the fall colors, but mostly just to get away.
We arrived at the train station in time to watch as several hundred people, more than a few of them pushing baby strollers, and a few dogs on leashes began a walk down the city's bicycle trail. They had come to enjoy a pleasant late October day and to raise money for breast cancer research. We chipped in and bought a couple of T-shirts.
When we returned home, I checked my mail and found a note from a friend with stage 3 breast cancer. We had worked together on several projects before she changed jobs, she the policy analyst, and I the systems analyst. I thought about her dealing with chemotherapy and of my cousin, whose wife died of breast cancer in 2009, leaving him to care for three pre-teenaged children.
Others of my friends and coworkers have suffered from this illness. Chances are very good that you either know someone or are someone with this life-threatening disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly a quarter-million new cases of breast cancer occur each year. Almost all of them will strike women. There is almost a one in eight chance that a woman will be diagnosed with this disease at some point in her life.
Although survival rates have increased over the past few years, breast cancer kills. A woman's chances of living five years or more after its initial diagnosis range from over 90 percent with early detection to around 15 percent for more advanced stages. This year, more than 40,000 women will die from it. The cost for breast cancer treatment is expected to exceed $55 billion this year, and about twice that much will be lost in economic productivity.
But cancer is not just a set of statistics. It is a career cut short. It is a child without a mother, a mother losing a daughter, a grieving husband, an incomplete family. It is all these and more, multiplied by 40,000 annually.
It is also a situation we can do something about. The National Institute for Health sponsors primary research on cancer, but its budget for this essential government service has been shrunk by sequestration. Many private and business organizations also fund cancer studies at universities across the country, and there is no shortage of charitable organizations, some very good, to which you can contribute if you so desire.
Another thing you can do is to get tested regularly. A woman's age, family history and risk all factor into determining an appropriate schedule for mammograms and clinical breast examinations. Women should check with their health-care providers to determine what's right for them. Early detection gives a woman her best chance of surviving this disease.
That former coworker described the current state of treatment as "cut, burn and poison." Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are today's best alternatives for treatment. Medical research focuses on more effective treatments with fewer side effects, better methods to identify women at higher-than-normal risk for developing breast cancer, lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing it and better screening tests. Advances in any of these areas will have effects beyond reducing the impact of breast cancer. All of us will benefit, not just breast cancer patients.
October is breast cancer awareness month; it's the reason you see all those pink ribbons and even the Oct. 15 edition of the Carroll County Times. It's also a time to act.

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