'Race for the Cure'I am writing to clear up what I...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

October 09, 1993

'Race for the Cure'

I am writing to clear up what I consider to be glaring misconceptions in Sara Engram's Sept. 26 column on breast cancer and the underlying premise of the Race for the Cure 5K run for women on Oct. 2.

I am one of the unfortunate souls Ms. Engram sadly references in passing. I have fourth-stage breast cancer, considered by medical science to be terminal. There is no "Race for the Cure" for me, or tens of thousands like me. We are the faces who haunt the proponents of early detection.

I did detect my breast cancer early. I performed breast self-exam every month from the age of 19 to the age of 30, when I found a cancerous lump. Twice a year I had my gynecologist do the same. Three years ago I caught the lump "in time," dutifully had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, only to have the cancer recur with a vengeance a year ago.

Two major studies last year showed that mammogram screening for women under 50 does not increase the rate of detection of cancer -- in other words, mammograms are statistically meaningless for women younger than 50.

Certainly, even one pre-menopausal woman's life saved by mammogram screening is worth the effort. Mammograms do save the lives of postmenopausal women, but early detection is hardly the panacea that well-meaning advocates and public health officials wish it were.

The public emphasis on early detection bespeaks a greater myopia.

While Ms. Engram pointed out that less than 10 percent of breast cancers are genetically caused, she did not report a far greater proportion of research money is spent on genetic causes than on the causes of the other 90 to 95 percent of all breast cancers.

We are witnessing an epidemic of devastating proportions, and yet no one seems willing to ask the simple question. Why?

Why did one in 20 women get breast cancer 50 years ago, when it is now one in nine? A quick glance at the studies provides tantalizing clues that no one seems willing to aggressively study and pull together into a cohesive picture.

The research studies I've collected point to an epidemic with multifactorial causes that go to the very heart of the American way of life. One showed that as women from other cultures move to the United States, their low rate of breast cancer increases to the high American rate.

Why? Is it the high fat American diet, stress, environmental pollutants? Studies have shown that obese women and women who drink alcohol are more prone to breast cancer.

Why? Is it the substances themselves and their effect on hormonal levels? Is it the negative and stressful lifestyles these groups may tend to live? Some combination of both?

Other studies done recently have linked breast cancer to DDT and dioxin exposure -- but the environmental pollutants angle is the most shamefully ignored and under-funded aspect of breast cancer research.

So we "Race for the Cure" because it's easier to focus on the medical magic bullet that continues to elude cancer researchers.

Because it's easier to run a 5K race than to clean up thousands of toxic dump sites, or change the way the food industry operates. To remove stress from our lives sometimes means changing our jobs, our marriages, our lives.

I'm afraid that mammography screening can be part of the problem, a way for us to stay in denial instead of facing the hard truths.

Real "early detection" would be to root out the causes of breast cancer, so you, your mother, your sister or your wife don't have to become statistics of a myopic public policy. I'm banking on the knowledge of those causes to help save my life and the lives of those of us already on the wrong side of the bell curve.

Jamie Mendlovitz

Towson

A Better Way to Select State Judges

As an attorney and unsuccessful judicial applicant, I would like to comment on why there is such a dearth of applicants before the judicial nominating commissions. There is virtually no chance of getting through the Judicial Nominating Commission to have one's name presented to the governor. It has developed into a very unhealthy situation.

Notwithstanding the six lay members and the chairman appointed by the governor, the lawyers have effectively taken over these selection commissions.

The non-lawyer members of the commission have traditionally looked to the lawyers for guidance and advice because of the force of their personalities and their knowledge of the law and legal procedures. This has allowed the local bar associations to take over the process of selecting judges.

The concept of the judicial selection commissions started with Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1970, who had been elected by the legislature to fill the vacancy created when Spiro Agnew was elected vice president. To prove he would at least take the selection of judges out of the "political process," Mr. Mandel came up with the concept of the judicial selection commissions prior to that year's election. It helped him sail through the election.

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