This column will be about breasts. You've been warned in case you choose to read further.
But don't look for anything racy or salacious. You won't see anything about my fondness for cleavage here. This column is about "serious bidness," breast health, to be specific. October has been designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. After you're done reading this, I hope all of you will be more aware.
Two people who are already quite aware are Marcia Buxbaum and Dr. Miles G. Harrison. Buxbaum coordinates the Women's Midlife Health Center at Sinai Hospital and heads a project called "Sisters Pass It On," aimed at educating women about breast cancer and helping uninsured women pay for their mammograms, an effective weapon in detecting breast cancer early.
"Women go to a clinic to get a sore throat checked and no one has ever said to them, 'Have you had a mammogram?' " Buxbaum said from her office in the Hoffberger Building at Sinai. She has nine volunteers who go forth to spread the word about the necessity of mammograms and early detection. The five black women and four Russian immigrants -- "my babushkas," Buxbaum calls the latter -- attend health fairs, churches and synagogues, and exhort women to do breast self-examinations and get mammograms. Black women and women from Russia have a high risk of breast cancer, Buxbaum said.
"During a 10-year period of the Vietnam War, 57,000 American soldiers were killed," Harrison told about 75 women gathered this month at Sinai to learn more about breast cancer. "During that same period, 300,000 women died of breast cancer."
Harrison is a general surgeon -- "not just a breast cancer surgeon," he stressed -- who has offices at Sinai and Garwyn Medical Center. He runs breast care programs at Liberty and Park West medical centers and founded "Sisters Surviving," a support group for survivors of breast cancer.
Using a laser to point to a large screen, Harrison had the difficult task of trying to make doctorese sound like plain, simple English. But he was up to the task.
"It's important to know the architectural structure of [your] breast," Harrison told the group, emphasizing the need for breast self-examinations. Some doctors pooh-pooh self-exams, he said, contending that the patient has no idea what she's feeling.
"But it's got to be better than no exam at all," Harrison countered. "With one more person examining the breast, the chances of finding something increase. That's common sense."
It's also common sense for women to know more about breast cancer and how to prevent it. Some statistics are in order. Statistics bore you, you say? Tough. Read 'em anyway. I don't just have a passion about this subject. I'm downright manic about it.
Women should start breast self-examinations at age 20. Harrison advises that girls who have a family history of breast cancer start self-exams as soon as they develop breasts.
American Cancer Society guidelines for screening mammograms are to have the first one by age 40, one every two years from ages 40 to 49 and one every year if you're 50 or older. (Screening mammograms, Harrison said, are done on healthy women with no symptoms or signs of breast abnormalities such as a lump or discharge from the nipple. Diagnostic mammograms are done on women who do have symptoms.)
Women should have an annual breast exam by a health care professional.
The top risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older.
Seventy-five percent of breast cancers occur in women 50 or older.
Women with no family history of breast cancer still need to get mammograms. "The majority of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. All women are at risk," stresses a flier Buxbaum hands out in her office.
Mammograms cost between $50 and $150, but don't be put off by costs. For women with no insurance to cover the cost of a mammogram, help is available. "Sisters Pass It On," through a $10,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, provides vouchers. Just call 578-8933. Women are also advised to check with the local American Cancer Society, the health department, the YWCA, churches, women's organizations, hospitals and mammography centers.
You have now been armed with some additional weapons in the war against breast cancer. Go forth, my sisters, and be healthy.
Pub Date: 10/27/96