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Thursday, October 25, 2001

Getting the word out

The modern war against breast cancer, the first shots of which might be said to have been fired when the surgical technique known as the radical mastectomy was introduced, is now more than 100 years old. While we've made great progress, nearly 97 percent of women who are diagnosed when the disease is in its early stages live for more than five years. Many women still do not realize the importance of early detection.

Consider the results of an American Cancer Society survey, which demonstrates that women still do not know their breast cancer risk. Respondents grossly overestimated their personal risk - for instance, nearly half of those surveyed said that women have a 50 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, the average lifetime risk is only about 11 percent. Women also said that the age of maximum risk is between 30 and 49. Wrong again; in actuality, 77 percent of new cases and 84 percent of deaths occur in women over age 50.

If we are ultimately to win this war, women need to know the facts. "Tell a Friend," a Society program now in its eighth year, was designed to help women get the information they need about breast cancer early detection and receive it from those they trust most, their friends. Although women trust their physicians, nearly 70 percent of respondents to our survey said that, when it comes to breast cancer, they also are greatly influenced by the opinions of their friends. The initiative helps trained volunteers start a dialogue, by calling friends and loved ones to talk about breast cancer and recommend regular self-exams and mammograms. Last year, we reached more than 155,000 women. We plan to do even better this year.

The American Cancer Society also provides information and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through the Society's website (www.cancer.org) and 1-800-ACS-2345. The website addresses questions about the nature of breast cancer, its causes and risk factors, new diagnostic techniques and the latest treatment options. The 800 number provides additional information about American Cancer Society services.

As we enter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we call on all women to become more familiar with this disease and to tell what they've learned to friends and family. Women need to use the power of their own voices to help fight the war against breast cancer.

Robin Stoner,

cancer control specialist

for Southern Missouri



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