Sisters acting: Sisters of breast cancer survivors are subject of study

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"There's a certain amount of fear for the unknown." That's how Suzanne Smith describes her cancer diagnosis.

She was told she had breast cancer in December 1996, when she was 43. She had a lumpectomy and underwent chemotherapy. She celebrated the 10-year anniversary of her last chemo treatment Saturday. Smith has been cancer free since the operation and wants to make sure more women can make that claim.

"I need for women to have the best post cancer treatment available to them," she said. Smith participated in a national study through Saint Francis Medical Center that tested the effects of Tamoxisen in prevention of breast cancer.

"For postmenopausal women it showed a 49 percent risk reduction," said Trinka Hileman, director of Woman Care at Saint Francis.

The drug was originally marketed to prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer in women who had already had it. Hileman said the research is important so that more knowledge can be gathered about breast cancer.

"We're getting better and better in the treatment of breast cancer, but prevention is key," she said. Because of the study, Tamoxisen is now used as a prevention drug in postmenopausal women.

One nationwide study is recruiting women to participate in a 10-year study to evaluate environmental and genetic causes of breast cancer. The Sister Study admits women ages 35 to 74 who have a sister who had breast cancer, but do not have it themselves.

"There's not very much known about the cause of breast cancer," said co-investigator Lisa DeRoo. DeRoo is a staff scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The study opened up nationally in 2004. They are trying to get 50,000 women by spring of 2008 and have 41,000 already.

"They're really doing it for future generations," DeRoo said. "They're doing it for their daughters and granddaughters and nieces so that we can better understand the disease."

For the remaining 9,000 women, the Sister Study is attempting to target black and Latino women because research lags for those races and ethnicities.

"We're really committed to getting these other women enrolled in the study," DeRoo said.

The Sister Study asks extensive questions on everything from menstrual cycle to places they've lived to what type of deodorant they use. It then checks on them every year for the duration of the study to monitor lifestyle changes and see if they have developed cancer.

"It was really the only thing that I could do on a direct basis other than just be there for her as a friend," said Connie Orr, a sister participating in the study.

Orr's sister lives in St. Louis and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991.

"It was the only thing I could really do in a proactive way to do something positive to help in the research of breast cancer," she said.

"It's something that every sister can do and should do," she said.

Orr, who is black, said the fears associated with medical studies shouldn't apply to the Sister Study. No pills are taken; no shots are given. It's strictly observational, she said.

Smith said being involved in studies is far more beneficial than inconvenient.

"Actually, I'm not sure why a women wouldn't want to participate," she said. "Because so much can be gained from the studies."

335-6611, extension 246

For more information on the Sister Study, visit or for Spanish visit or call 1-877-4SISTER.

Early detection, self-exams important

One in eight women in the United States will get breast cancer in her lifetime. It is the second most common cancer in women, next only to skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, but death rates are declining, which the ACS attributes to early detection and improved treatment.

Health officials agree that women should begin getting yearly mammograms after they turn 40, but younger women also need to be aware of the possibilities.

“The biggest risk factor of developing breast cancer is age, but it can affect anyone,” said Lavonna Wollard-Biddle, nurse manager for oncology and infusion services at Southeast Missouri Hospital. “I’ve heard of children getting it.”

She said every woman from age 18 should be doing monthly self-examinations in order to detect cancer sooner.

“Just so you get to know the lumps and bumps you have in your breasts naturally,” she said. Detecting cancer often comes after finding a new or changing lump in the breast.

“The only way you can get to do that is to know your anatomy and get to know your breasts,” Wollard-Biddle said.

Not all breast cancers are found in lumps, she said. Sometimes it can be a skin change like a dimpling in one place.

Web sites, including the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen foundation, give instructions on how to give self-examinations and materials are often available in doctor’s offices.

-- Chris Harris



* Dig for Life Pink-Out Night, 7 p.m. Houck Field House. Southeast Missouri State University volleyball athletes “dig” for breast cancer prevention, detection and education. Team members secure pledges per dig, a volleyball term, which are then tallied throughout all of October’s home matches. All ticket proceeds to the game will benefit Dig for Life, and breast cancer survivors will receive a free T-shirt.

* Breast Care & Diagnostic Center Open House: From noon to 6 p.m. The Center will open its doors to visitors in October in an effort to better educate women about the detection and treatment of breast cancer.


* Think Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Night: 5 to 9 p.m., Just Teasin’ Hair and Nail Salon. Proceeds from $10 haircuts go to breast cancer research.

To add other Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities to this list, contact Chris Harris at or call her at 335-6611, extension 246.

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