Cancer experts shared positive news from the field at the YM-YWHA of Union County on Oct. 13, telling audience members that research has begun to focus on “survivorship” as more and more childhood cancer patients survive into adulthood and even achieve a normal life span.
For the predominantly Jewish audience, hearing that Ashkenazi Jews face higher odds of getting cancer than the general population, that “survivorship” was a particularly welcome angle.
Four speakers from the Trinitas Comprehensive Cancer Care Center in Elizabeth took part in the dinner event, “Breast Health and You,” sponsored by Trinitas.
The crowd of about 70 — mostly women — heard about improvements in detection, including digital mammography and now MRIs. They laughed with appreciation when radiologist Dr. Leonard Resnikoff declared that every drug company and university is searching for a less painful mammogram.
Advanced practice nurse-educator Carol Blecher said that longer studies of women who had annual mammograms have shown that over a 25-year period, they showed a 30 percent lower rate of death from breast cancer. Longer life expectancy has shifted the focus to preventing a recurrence, dealing more effectively with long-term complications from treatment, health and quality-of-life issues, and enhancing community support and outreach.
Resnikoff stressed that “breast cancer is not a death sentence; it is usually treatable.”
He urged women to do self-exams and have regular mammograms — but also to remember that breast pain is rarely due to cancer, and most lumps are benign cysts.
“We’re making strides, but we’re still struggling,” said oncologist Dr. Barry Levinson, the Trinitas Cancer Center’s medical director.
In the 1960s, one in 14 women was expected to get cancer, compared to the one in eight figure now, but that might also be due to longer life expectancy. Treatment has become more effective and easier to handle, Levinson added. “Chemotherapy isn’t a breeze, but it has become manageable. We are finding more specific therapies and much less toxic ones.”
Also speaking at the event was breast health outreach coordinator Amparo Aguirre.