Doctors urge women to get mammograms

January 29, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Somewhere between the marble and the small glass bead lies survival.

A malignant breast tumor as large as a marble is far more threatening to life than a smaller one -- and the smaller tumor can be detected by mammography, an X-ray of the breast.

"The difference," says Dr. Joseph Aisner, director of the University of Maryland Cancer Center, "is the difference between cure and no cure."

Dr. Aisner spoke yesterday during a luncheon discussion held by the state's Employee Wellness Program. With the breast cancer death rate in the state among the highest in the nation, Maryland has launched several initiatives to reduce it

If the disease is found early -- when the tumor is small and new -- the death rate can be reduced by a third, Dr. Aisner said. Frequently, experts say, the tumor can be removed without removing the breast -- if it is found early enough.

His message was reinforced during a luncheon at the Calvert House yesterday by Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the wife of Baltimore's mayor, whose breast cancer was discovered by mammogram.

Feeling "healthy and invincible" at 36, she said, she almost delayed the appointment she had made for a baseline mammogram. Because she didn't, and because the tumor was found early, she said, "my chances of survival are quite good."

Drs. Schmoke and Aisner said women must take more responsibility for their own health. If a device were available to detect any given childhood disease, she said, women would be standing in line with their youngsters. They don't feel the same urgency about their own health.

"Don't let yourself down," Dr. Schmoke said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, applauding Dr. Schmoke's courage and commitment, said Maryland has to adopt an aggressive anti-cancer stance because the disease causes terrible suffering and is costly to treat. And its causes can be attacked.

Mr. Schaefer said he is committed to passage of a 25-cent increase in the cigarette tax. Part of the additional revenue would be used for research.

But he cautioned, "Don't fool yourself. That bill could lose."

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