July 31, 2007 -- Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts announced on air Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Roberts, 46, says she will undergo surgery soon and then receive follow-up treatment within the next few months.
"I never thought I'd be writing this ... I have breast cancer," Roberts writes on the Good Morning America web site. After her ABC news colleague Joel Siegel died from colon cancer in June, Roberts worked on a special report detailing his battle.
"That very night when I went to bed, I did a self breast exam and found something that women everywhere fear: I found a lump," she writes. "At first I thought, 'This can't be. I am a young, healthy woman.' Nevertheless, I faced my fear head on and made an appointment to see the doctor. Much as I was hoping the doctor would say it was nothing, she did a biopsy and confirmed that the lump I'd found was indeed an early form of breast cancer."
The 'Robin Roberts Effect' on Early Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Roberts is not alone. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society (ACS). About 178,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2007.
"I give Robin Roberts a tremendous amount of credit for going public from the beginning and using her experience to help others," says Donnica Moore, MD, a women's health expert based in Far Hills, N.J. Moore is not treating Roberts.
"Just as we saw the 'Katie Couric effect' on the diagnosis of colon cancer, I predict that Robin Roberts' brave announcement will produce a 'Robin Roberts effect' in the increased diagnosis of breast cancer among all women," she says.
After Couric underwent a colonoscopy on the Today show in March 2000, test rates jumped nationwide.
After finding the lump, Roberts underwent both a mammogram (breast X-ray) and an ultrasound. A breast ultrasound transmits high-frequency sound waves to help determine if a lump is a fluid-containing cyst or a solid mass.
"The good news is that 97% of women diagnosed with stage I breast cancer will effectively be able to be cured," she tells WebMD. It is not yet known what stage of breast cancer Roberts has, but she did say it was early breast cancer.
"The most important thing that Roberts said on air is that 80% of women have no risk factors other than having breasts," Moore says. "We know that she had no family history, was an athlete, and is not significantly overweight, and she has said she was remarkably healthy her whole life," Moore says.
African-American Women and Breast Cancer
African-American women are at greater risk for having breast cancer at a younger age than women of other ethnicities, and their cancer is likely to be advanced when it is diagnosed, Moore tells WebMD.
Robin Roberts' story stresses the importance of doing breast self-exams, says Jenny Romero, MD, a medical oncologist at the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in New York City.
"People who do breast self-exams find lumps when they are smaller, and the smaller it is, the better off you are," she says.
Unfortunately, not all cases of breast cancer can be detected on a breast self-exam. The ACS says that breast self-exams for women without symptoms can start in the early 20s. Women should discuss with a doctor how to perform a breast self-exam properly, and also discuss the exam's limitations and benefits. It is important to report new breast symptoms or changes.
The ACS also says clinical breast exams performed by a health care provider should be done at least every three years for women in their 20s and 30s. Starting at age 40, women should receive clinical breast exams yearly and start yearly mammograms. Women at increased risk may need to start screening tests earlier, with shorter intervals, and with other types of tests.