Lingle pushes
breast cancer

The governor uses her own
experience as an example
of the value of mammography

Gov. Linda Lingle recalled her experience with possible breast cancer at a public meeting yesterday to promote awareness of the disease.

Two breast biopsies last year, about a month before her inauguration, showed some abnormal cells were not cancerous but they put her in a high-risk category for breast cancer, Lingle said.

Most women are able to deal with such things in private, but she and her doctor, Laura Weldon Hoque, medical director of Kapiolani Women's Center, had to do it on four TV stations, Lingle said. "My father read about it on the Internet, so it was a difficult time."

But Lingle realized it was an opportunity to make women aware of breast cancer and the importance of getting a mammogram. "Everybody's heard, 'What you don't know can't hurt you.' With what we're dealing with, what you don't know can hurt you and it can kill you.

"The message is coming out loudly and clearly, cancer is treatable if caught early."

Straub Foundation sponsored the three-day conference on "Advances and Controversies in Breast Cancer Prevention & Treatment" at the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel. About 400 people, many of them breast cancer survivors, attended the meeting yesterday and about 120 doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers attended professional sessions Thursday and Friday.

Doctors described improved and new techniques to detect and treat cancer and encouraged women to learn the options and talk to their doctors about them.

Dr. Patrick Borgen, chief of Breast Service in the surgery department of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, said, women now face 200 different combinations of treatment choices. "The field is rapidly changing. We are looking at the dawn, I think, of unraveling this disease at a very high level."

Breast cancer isn't a single disease but a complicated family of diseases, said Dr. George O. McPheeters, Straub Clinic & Hospital surgeon.

He said the incidence of breast cancer is increasing in the United States, Hong Kong and Japan. About 800 Hawaii women are diagnosed every year and more than 100 die of the disease.

But he cited "tremendous progress" with treatment, saying more women are being cured and women should not avoid getting a mammogram because of "fear of the unknown."

The American Cancer Society recommends a yearly mammogram after age 40 and earlier if a woman has a family history of cancer or other risk factors.

Dr. William Dooley, chairman of the Oklahoma University Breast Institute, discussed a controversial new procedure called ductal lavage. It involves recovering cells from a woman's milk ducts to identify high risk breast tissue.

"By the time it's the size of a pencil eraser, it's already been there almost a decade," he said. "If we want to change the force of the disease, we need to predict patients with pre-cancer steps."

Rosanne Harrigan, chair, Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine, said there is "no evidence to indicate anything magical out there" in supplements to prevent breast cancer.

There are many types of complementary therapies but no scientific evidence for most on whether they're safe or will work, she said.

Kathleen Kelly, among breast cancer survivors in the audience yesterday, was particularly interested in different medical views on immediate versus delayed breast reconstruction after cancer surgery.

"It reaffirmed my decision to wait on reconstruction because I needed to do that from the inside."

Kelly, a nurse, said she goes to a cancer support group once a month because "it is important for me to actually see women who have gone on living for decades without their breasts."

Kelly discovered her cancer three years ago in a self exam. She said the meeting was a "good contribution to the community" by Straub Foundation because "women are smart and once we get information we are wonderfully able to problem-solve alongside the professionals."


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