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.
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, knows her breast cancer is not going away.
Edwards' breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2004, has recurred. It's in her bones, and, as Edwards writes in her new memoir, Resilience, "it wasn’t leaving. Not ever."
That knowledge -- that she will one day die from breast cancer or die with it -- is at the heart of some hard-won lessons about dealing with breast cancer -- and getting aggressive about its early detection...
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
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."