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Early detection best bet in breast cancer awareness

By Michael Davis

When Joyce Medin thought she found a lump in one of her breasts, she didn't hesitate to act.

"I went immediately to have a mammogram," the 64-year-old Jonesboro resident said. The mammogram identified one lump in her breast and doctors later found another.

The lumps were quickly diagnosed as breast cancer but after surgery and six weeks of radiation treatment, the cancer was gone and Medin said thankfully, she has been cancer-free ever since.

That was in 1986, but doctors' advice hasn't changed much since then. Regular mammograms and self-examinations, they say, give women the best chance of detecting cancer early and successfully treating it.

And since October is the 19th annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, doctors and hospitals in Clayton and Henry counties are encouraging women to perform monthly self-exams and get yearly mammograms.

"The self-exam was really important to me because so many people had found their cancer themselves," said Medin.

The group leader of the Clayton County chapter of Bosom Buddies, a breast cancer survivors' support group, Medin said the group helps survivors to deal with the emotional side of breast cancer and help them through what is often an intense treatment process.

"We try to keep a good outlook because when you have a good outlook, it causes other people to have a good outlook," said Medin.

The American Cancer Society reported that nearly 5,200 Georgians will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and nearly 1,000 will die from the disease.

Dr. Anita Johnson of the Fayette Breast Center said that mammograms detect about 75 percent of all breast cancers present in women. "It's not 100 percent but it's significant," she said.

Because of treatment options that conserve breast tissue, if cancer is detected early enough, Johnson said that women have the option not to have mastectomies.

The American Cancer Society reported that of women who have yearly mammograms, 60 percent were eligible for breast conserving surgery to remove lumps but leave the breast in tact.

But Sissy Minor of Locust Grove, didn't realize the importance of mammograms until it was almost too late.

"I didn't see the necessity or importance of having a mammogram done but then when I had a problem, I said ?I'm ready.'"

Now the leader of the Henry County chapter of Bosom Buddies, the 53-year-old Minor has been cancer-free since 1991 and said, "Had I gone earlier, I may have avoided a mastectomy."

Thanks to post-operation drug treatments, doctors say they have greatly reduced the reoccurrence of breast cancer. Drugs like tamoxifen have been used after initial treatment to interfere with estrogen, a hormone linked to tumor growth. The regimen usually lasts five years, said Johnson.

A study to be published next month in the "New England Journal of Medicine" has found that the drug letrozole, will help reduce the risk even further.

"Women who have taken five years of tamoxifen who start taking letrozole, lower their risk of reoccurrence by 50 percent," said Dr. Johnson.

Doctors recommend women 25 and older perform a monthly self breast-exam and women 40 and older get a yearly mammogram in conjunction with a doctor's exam.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Southern Regional Medical Center is holding a Breast Cancer Lunch and Learn on Oct.16 at noon in its auditorium. For more information or to register for the free event, call (770) 541-1111.

Henry Medical Center will also be holding a women's health fair on Oct. 18 at the new Education Center. The fair will include breast cancer risk assessments and self-exam training by a mammogram specialist. The event is free but donations of personal care items to Haven House, Henry County's battered women's shelter, are encouraged. For more information, call (770) 389-2143.