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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Winter 1998, Vol.18, No.1
Breast Cancer Symposium

The CPMC Women's Resource Center, with support from the alumni office, sponsored a breast cancer symposium last spring. Program moderator Barron H. Lerner'86, an expert in the history and ethics of breast cancer, began by offering a historical perspective. "It was only 60 years ago, Dr. Lerner pointed out, "that breast cancer was viewed as a certain death sentence. Today, obviously, there is much more optimism, yet to a large extent, the dread of the disease still exists."

Dr. Sally Faith Dorfman, a gynecologist and director of public health and education for the Medical Society of the State of New York, elaborated on the impact of breast cancer. While current statistics report a one-in-nine lifetime risk of breast cancer, statistics take on a more subjective slant when it comes to real people. "For you as individuals," she said to the audience, "your risk is either going to be zero or 100 percent."

Donna Russo, coordinator of the cancer genetics program in the Department of Surgery, addressed the issue of breast cancer genetics and the implications of DNA testing. Recounting attempts by the medical community to integrate the recent discovery of cancer susceptibility genes into clinical practice, she cautioned, "We are only too keenly aware of the profound limitations that still exist in this knowledge."

M. Patricia McGovern, a 1991 School of Nursing graduate and a clinical nurse specialist for the bone marrow transplant service at CPMC, gave an overview of oncology nursing and the need to provide aftercare. "Every woman," she said, "responds to the diagnosis of breast cancer differently and needs a different set of coping mechanisms and resources."

Dr. Janet Rose Osuch, professor of surgery and medical director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Clinic at Michigan State University, gave an in-depth presentation on current surgical treatment options. Dr. Osuch began by distinguishing between two kinds of breast cancer, cancer limited to the milk ducts and lobular cancer. For years, the standard treatment for duct cancer had been a simple mastectomy. "We now have data," she said, "to show that lumpectomy and radiation are as effective." On an optimistic note, she pointed out that duct cancer is a highly curable disease. "It is not cancer of the breast that takes a woman's life; it's when the cancer spreads to distant organs that we're in trouble."

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