This September marks the 21st annual breast cancerawareness month, so who better to ask about where we are in the war on this disease than Susan Love, MD?
At the forefront of breast cancerresearch for almost 30 years, Love is the medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She also penned the bible of breast care books, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.
In April 2002, when the doctor told us my wife, Chris, had breast cancer, the first two words out of my mouth were "Oh" and a four-letter word. I felt shock and disbelief -- that this kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. I had no idea how I would handle this -- do all the caregiving, plus make a living. Right away, my attitude was, "It's her job to get better, and it's my job to do everything else." But it still seemed impossible.
As it turned out, Chris had stage 3 breast cancer and...
The good news is that we're making strides, Love says. Big ones. She is confident that researchers will find a cure for the cancer estimated to take the lives of nearly 40,000 women and more than 450 men in 2006.
Here's why: Doctors used to think of breast cancer as one disease with one treatment. Not anymore. Today, "we are realizing that all breast cancer is not the same, and there are six different types based on the genetic material [DNA] patterns," she says.
This means a new approach to treatment. "Instead of one-size-fits-all treatment, we will start doing targeted therapies to match the tumor," Love says. "Breast cancer treatments will be like trying to buy a dress. Everybody doesn't fit into a size 12, and now we are saying certain-sized dresses are better for certain-sized women."
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to Love. A new genetic test can study genes within a tumor and determine whether the cancer will need chemotherapy.
Earlier detection and prevention are also high on Love's priority list. She has been spearheading a new procedure called ductal lavage, which can provide an earlier diagnosis of cancerous and precancerous cells in the breast's milk ducts. All breast cancers start in the milk ducts, so spotting them here may help with earlier detection.
The bottom line, according to Love: "I think we are getting closer to a cure, but we need to focus on prevention and earlier diagnosis."