Around Town: Take Action Against Breast Cancer

by Kathryn Sanders

A panel of breast cancer experts convened in DC to discuss what’s new with the disease. 

Judy Woodruff with panelists. Photo credit: Rodney Choice/

“I’d be thrilled if we could prevent breast cancer. And then I could stop working,” said Dr. Rachel Brem, director of Woman’s Imaging at George Washington University, at a recent panel discussion.

The “Take Action Against Breast Cancer” panel, moderated PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff and hosted by Connecticut-based Breast Cancer Alliance, brought together leading medical experts to address where we stand with breast cancer now, and how to go about detecting and preventing the disease.

And where we stand now is better than it used to be. While breast cancer is the single most common diagnosis of cancer that is life threatening, according to the panel, it also has a very high cure rate.

Dr. Eleni Tousimis, director of Ourisman Breast Cancer Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, referred to a CNN headline that said, “Opioids now kill more people than breast cancer,” a startling but true fact. Because of the opioid epidemic in this country, Tousimis is focused on non-narcotic anesthesia for breast surgery, among other new surgical initiatives in breast cancer management.

According to another of the experts, Dr. Clifford Hudis, American Society of Clinical Oncology CEO, cancer is the biggest indicator of wealth, since it means we’re living longer. Rising cancer rates correlate with rising wealth, quality of life and aging.

Humans get cancer for the same reason they evolve, Hudis said. Our cells divide, and we duplicate our DNA. We do it billions of times per day with all of our cells.

Cancer happens when the cell duplication becomes abnormal. Since so much of this duplication happens all the time, Hudis said it is “remarkable we don’t get cancer more, not less.”

When it comes to detecting breast cancer, Brem said the biggest issue is knowing your breast density.

“Having dense breast tissues is sort of the perfect storm,” Brem said, noting that not only are cancers more difficult to detect in dense breasts, but dense breasts are also four times more likely to develop breast cancer. Brem stressed the need to be informed and to have a screening ultrasound.

And while detection is critical, prevention is also key in staying healthy. Hudis stressed two lifestyle factors that are critical in preventing breast cancer: a healthy body weight and low alcohol consumption.

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