The Dr. Is In

Thursday, October 6th, 2011
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National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By The Staff of North Hawaii Community Hospital

The numbers are staggering, so huge they are difficult to grasp fully. The words are strange, abstract – until you know someone who gets the disease. Or until you get it yourself. It can be much easier to understand a calendar, and a colorful ribbon. October is the month of pink, the color of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here are some big numbers. They are sobering. The federal Centers for Disease Control keep detailed records. In 2007 (the most recent year numbers are available):

* 202,964 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer.

* 40,598 women in the United States died from breast cancer.

If you think only women get breast cancer, stop. Actuarial tables, the thick books of statistics that insurance companies compile, estimate that almost 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Another 450 men will die of breast cancer.

What is breast cancer? Here’s where strange words enter the dialogue, the same dialogue that takes place in a doctor’s office when a woman or a man gets the diagnosis and suddenly all the air is inhaled out of the room. And words like uncontrolled cell division, angiogenesis, metastasis, mutations in the genes BCRA1 and BRCA2 all enter the personal dictionary of words you need to know.

In a human body, cells divide, grow and die all the time. This is normal.But sometimes cells divide uncontrollably, and grow into a mass, a tumor. To grow, the tumor needs food, so it grows new blood vessels. This is angiogenesis.

The tumor can be benign – it won’t grow back after it is removed. Or the tumor can be malignant, and be every bit as ugly as the word itself, capable of spreading to the bone, liver, lungs or brain. This is metastasis, and it can be lethal.

For some people who develop breast cancer, inheriting an abnormal mutation of the BCRA1 or BCRA2 genes might have played a big role. Those are two genes known as “tumor suppressor genes,” according to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization. The Komen organization is the nation’s largest breast cancer charity, raising more than $161 million for research in 2006-2007, according to MSNBC.

That’s a lot of money, but it is only a fraction of the amount spent by other, federal organizations on breast cancer research. The National Cancer Institute spent $572.4 million on breast cancer research in 2007; the National Institutes of Health, $705 million.

Of all the websites on the Internet dedicated to breast cancer research and information, the Susan G. Komen site is one of the very best. The disease is described in plain English. You do not need to be a medical professional to understand the information.

To find out more from the Susan G. Komen site, go to: good sites include:;; Find a site that gives information you can understand. If the language is too full of medical jargon, try another website. If English is your second language, start with the Intercultural Cancer Council – they have specific information for peoples of the Pacific Rim region. Go to:

If you do not have a personal computer, go to the public library and ask a librarian to help you. Every public library in North Hawaii provides free Internet access and free assistance. The librarians will be very helpful, guaranteed.

There is no cure for breast cancer. But there is a huge effort taking place to understand and ultimately defeat this killer disease. Medical and science teams of the highest caliber are making extraordinary gains in the race to understand the answers to breast cancer’s multiple enigmas. But early diagnosis remains the key to getting the best possible treatment, and achieving the best possible chance of joining the 2.57 million breast cancer survivors now living in the U.S. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients is more than 90 percent if the disease is caught early, according to WebMD research data.

To learn more about breast cancer, talk to your doctor, get information from North Hawaii Community Hospitals’ Oncology department and become more aware. Learn how to self-check for symptoms, learn the importance of getting annual checkups as you age, learn how a good diet and regular exercise can help decrease your risk. And share all you know or suspect or want to know from your physician. Do not wait.

Please join NHCH on Friday, October 7th from 6-9 p.m. for our 11th Annual “Girls Night Out.” This fun free event is open to the public and aims to keep the women in our community healthy, happy and informed about Breast Cancer Awareness. For more information, visit