This year in Illinois, an estimated 9510 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women, and 1830 will die. As we count down to the Peoria Race for the Cure, development director for the Komen Memorial Affiliate Gina Morss looks at the latest research and treatment of breast cancer.
One woman in the U-S is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes and one woman dies of the disease every 13 minutes. Peorian Karen Johnson is one of those newly diagnosed patients, but she's not letting fear of death keep her from living.
"You just have to be pro-active about your health because the earlier you catch it the more likely you are to be a survivor," Johnson said.
In fact, when detected early, the 5-year breast cancer survival rate is 98%.
"In the last 10 years breast cancer patients have had a 2% increase in survival for each of the last 10 years, which means a 20% improvement in survival," Dr. Lynne Jalovec, breast cancer surgeon says.
Jalovec attributes the improving prognosis to screening mammography, beginning at age 40, and more treatment options.
"and that is all due to research that has lead to more personalized approaches to the treatment of breast cancer," Jalocev says.
Dr. Jalovec says one example of personalized care is how physicians look at the removal of lymph nodes.
"We no longer have to tell her that if she has a positive lymph node, say one positive lymph node, that she has to have all of the glands taken out from under her arm and then possibly end up with arm swelling called lymphedema. That's all based on research saying that there's a group of women who do not have to have these lymph nodes taken out."
It's things like that that improve the patient's quality of life. And what about preventing a recurrence? Johnson, a 56-year-old wife and mother of two, wanted to make sure she was around to see her children get married. So, doctors tested the tumors removed during her lumpectomy, something called OCO type DX or gene profiling, and determined she was at intermediate risk for the cancer to come back.
"I chose to do chemo to lessen that chance of it recurring," Johnson said.
Now she hopes her biggest worry will be losing her hair...something she can cover up with a wig, hat or scarf.
"I never realized that losing your hair is such a part of who you are and who your identity is," Johnson said. "So, in order for me to put it in perspective, I just kept saying it's only temporary and knowing that it will grow back gives me comfort."
She also takes comfort in the support she gets from participating in the Komen Peoria Race for the Cure. She knows her participation helps fund research. In fact, Susan G. Komen is the largest non-profit fundraiser of breast cancer research in the world. Two of those research studies are taking place at Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield. Only the U. S. Government provides more research funding. But, Dr. Jalovec has this word of caution.
"People need to realize that when we talk about the Race for the Cure and people are mentioning sign up for it and please be there. The moment we don't show everyone that this is a priority in our lives, that eradicating breast cancer is not a priority, the research money will quit flowing. The government provides research money for breast cancer, the Komen Foundation does, the American Cancer Society does and other organizations, but when they don't see the public response to this in large numbers, if they don't see people interested in it, the money's gonna back off."
What's not backing off, for now, is the flow of information. New findings presented at Europe's leading breast cancer translational research conference this year reveal many biological differences between individual breast cancers. Doctors have understood for decades that breast cancer is not one disease. The new analysis, based on patterns of DNA mutations and RNA expression in 2000 specimens, defines 10 molecular types of breast cancer. The findings could help scientists and doctors provide better, less toxic treatment options for women with all stages of the disease.