Editor's note: Burlington Patch has been notified by Lahey Clinic that the symposium discussed below has been filled.
Dr. Susan Love, renowned breast cancer advocate, physician and author of "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book," a book considered by many to be one of the quintessential works on breast cancer, will be speaking at a symposium being held by tomorrow.
Love is participating in an afternoon-long discussion for cancer patients, their families and the public "The Promising Future of Cancer Care," that will run from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the , 1 Burlington Mall Road.
Dr. Love is also the president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, a non-profit that works to fun breast cancer research and promote awareness of the disease. She also works closely with the "Love/Avon Army of Women," an organization that invites women, both those diagnosed with breast cancer and those with no diagnosis, to sign up to be available for breast cancer research studies. Love was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Cancer Advisory Board.
In a phone interview with Patch, Dr. Love said her talk will focus on clearing up some of the misconceptions surrounding breast cancer prevention and detection. She said the biggest misconception among the public with breast cancer is the emphasis put on early detection, which she believes causes undue stress, can lead to unnecessary treatments that can themselves be hazardous and steals the focus of research.
"The problem with the theory of early detection is that it is based on the thinking that all cancer is the same and grows at steady rate and then will spread and kill you," she said. "It’s a theory, it makes logical sense, but it's not right. What we’ve found in more recent research, you need two things to end up with breast cancer: Cells that have a mutation for cancer and a local neighborhood with cells that egg them on. You can have cells, most of us probably have cells with mutations, but they're dormant. We change something, take hormones or something similar, and then wake them up."
She explained that currently the low-threshold for a positive finding of breast cancer means many women undergo treatments unnecessarily, and radiation and chemotherapy can actually cause secondary cancers and other treatments cause scarring and swelling. She said current research shows that to avoid this potential problem women should get tested later in life than what most people in the public believe.
"The science has shifted and recommendations have changed with the science, but not the public perception," she said.
Dr. Love also said that too much of the current research done today is focused on finding a cure, at the expense of not finding the cause.
"We’ve put a lot of effort into finding the cure, and made progress but still 40,000 women die from breast cancer each year," she said. "We need to find the cause and how to stop it from forming."
She suggested this might include a shift in the direction of thinking and postulated that the cause of breast cancer may be a virus or bacteria or something else entirely, and the goal of research should be finding it. One problem, she explained, is that most research is done on lab rats and mice, which don't naturally get breast cancer, and instead must be given it by researchers. This procedure may help find a cure, but not the cause.
To perform research on a cause, scientists would need to study human subjects, both those who have cancer and those without. To this end Dr. Love partnered with Avon to create the "Avon Army of Women," which asks women to sign up to participate in studies. Once someone signs up, information is sent to her about studies she could help, with all necessary information on the study itself, and at that time a participant can decide whether or not to join that particular study. Currently, Dr. Love said, over 360,000 women have signed up, 55,000 have agreed to future studies and over 50 studies have been conducted.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Avon Army of Women can click the link to go to the web site, which has a lot of information on the program and how to participate.
Dr. Keith Stuart, Chairman of the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Lahey Clinic, who will also be speaking at Friday's symposium on rectal cancer, said the hospital staff is excited to welcome Dr. Love.
"We’re very happy to have her hear at the symposium," he said. "She’s made tremendous contributions to popularizing the problem and getting people involved," he said. "The Army of Women project that is getting women involved in research is a tremendous. It's also a great publicity effort to let people know how big a problem cancer is and how we can treat and prevent it if we get people involved."
Finally, Dr. Stuart emphasized that the symposium will be an optimistic discussion on the current state and future of cancer research. He said over the past 15 years the number of patients that survive with cancer has grown and he expects that trend to continue with further research.
"We want to show people that we as oncologists are optimistic about the future," he said. "Out main goal is education. People come to us as patients not knowing enough, or having read terrible things on internet. Part of this is to educate people so there is less fear associated with a cancer diagnosis. There is more optimism for the future and this disease is more treatable than ever before. We keep doing the best research we can and we continue to find tools to manage the disease and change the way people think about it."