Colorado Springs state representative Lynn Hefley was one of two dozen men and women who gathered at the steps of the capitol to take part in ceremonies marking the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month last week
The 62-year-old state representative said she was a survivor of breast cancer, which doctors discovered two years ago.
The rally came two days before researchers were set to release a new study reporting that a major effort to teach self-examination in more than 260,000 women in China did not reduce the rate of breast cancer deaths.
The effort was targeted to teach women to detect early, small lumps of developing breast cancer. The findings suggested that the technique was a waste of time for doctors and patients.
Study lead author Dr. David Thomas said that women were not able to detect lumps early enough to make a difference.
Thomas theorized that in poorer countries where mammography is not as readily available as it is in the United States, public health officials should not spend funds on teaching breast self examination.
In the U.S., Thomas said doctors should not emphasize self-examination when mammography is available.
The study goes directly against most experts’ recommendation that routine self-examinations should be performed by all women.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned half of nearly 266,000 female factory workers in Shanghai to one of two groups. One group was taught how to properly perform the examinations. The group received monthly reminders and then conducted the exams under medical supervision every six months for five years.
The second group received no information on breast cancer screening.
Study authors found that after more than a decade no difference was found among the two groups in the rate of death from breast cancer. One hundred thirty five women in the group that did examinations died. In the other group, 131 women died.
The study was conducted to determine whether an intensive program of self-examination would decrease breast cancer mortality.
The women were all chosen from 519 Shanghai factories.
Study authors said that women who choose self-examination should be informed that its efficacy is unproven and that it may increase their changes of having a benign breast biopsy.
The study appears in the latest Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month web site estimates that during 2002 and estimated 203,500 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the U.S. The organization encourages all women to recognize the importance of early breast cancer detection by participating in National Mammography Day on Oct. 18.
Symptoms of breast cancer include a recent change in the size of one breast, a lump or mass in the breast or skin puckering. Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit are also a warning sign.
Other symptoms include changes in the nipple: bleeding or discharge, a retraction or elevation, eczema, dimpling, redness, welling or sores and changes in color or in the way a breast feels to the touch.
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center recommends monthly self-examinations from age 20 and a clinical breast exam every one to three years from age 20-39.
Annual mammograms and clinical breast exams should be the standard for care beginning at age 40.
The center recommends that women try to schedule clinical breast exams at the time of regularly scheduled mammograms and the frequency should be increased for women at increased risk for breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
Certain risk factors are associated with breast cancer. Some studies have linked a women’s use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy to slightly higher risks of breast cancer.
Alcohol has been clearly linked to increase the risk of getting breast cancer. Women who have one drink a day have a small increased risk, but women who have two to five drinks daily have about a 1.5 times increased risk than women who do not drink.
Being overweight has also been linked to increase risk for the disease. The risk level is complex since being overweight puts a person at increased risk for other types of cancer. The American Cancer Society suggests staying at a healthy weight and limiting red meats, especially those high in fat or ones that have been processed.
Research is ongoing about the role exercise plays in limiting risk.
Colorado offers free mammograms to women who are uninsured, 50 or older and who also qualify through family size and income level.
The state’s Women’s Cancer Control Initiative has screened approximately 50,000 since its inception in 1991.
The initiative’s phone number is 866-692-2600.
For more information on breast cancer you can visit the American Cancer Society web site at www.cancer.org .