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Is breast cancer still a death sentence?

caines | 10/11/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Two medical experts trace history of the disease

Most of us have heard about breast cancer and probably know someone from our family or circle of friends who has faced this dreaded disease. But how much do we really know about breast cancer? And should those who are diagnosed with breast cancer have any hope of survival or are they still facing an inevitable death sentence as was the case just a few decades ago? Dr. Hakan Charles-Harris, who has cared for the North Miami community since 2000 and has been appointed medical director of the new Breast Cancer Center at North Shore Medical Center [slated to open in early 2013] and Dr. John Cooperwood, a Florida A&M University [FAMU] researcher and an associate professor of basic sciences in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, spoke with The Miami Times about changes in the treatment of breast cancer. Charles-Harris, board certified by both the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Vascular Medicine - Endovascular, says that due to various improvements in treatment, the biggest difference he sees today is that most patients no longer succumb to the disease. Medical and surgical breakthroughs have made a huge difference in the overall survival rate of patients with breast cancer, he said. If you take all patients and all stages, some studies indicate that 88 percent survive 20 or more years. Were really making progress because in the first two-thirds of the 20th century, only 60 percent of patients survived 20 or more years. He says early detection is the major reason for the longer period of survival. As for why Black women are among those most impacted by breast cancer, he says, detection tends to be later in the Black cohort because they have the greatest difficulty accessing medical care and are less educated regarding the disease. Charles-Harris notes that innovative approaches in surgery have benefited both women and men as both sexes can fall victim to breast cancer. In the past, surgical options were limited a mastectomy was very disfiguring and it was hard on the patient physically and psychologically, he said. One of the significant innovations called breast-conserving surgery involves removing the cancerous lump and leaving the breast behind with much less scarring and deformity. Now, with early detection and partial-breast radiation, which we have at our medical centers, theres a much greater chance to save the breast. He notes that diet, particularly in young girls, is very important in lowering ones chances of developing breast cancer. Overall, he says we have seen significant progress in treating breast cancer. Many women with breast cancer have said that with certain surgical procedures, they didnt feel fully like a woman, he said. Now with the new forms of surgery, we are seeing less of an impact on a patients sex life, more patients can eventually return to work and theres less scarring of the chest wall. More are seeing their self-image remain pretty much intact.

Cooperwoods research goes back to childhood pain