Sunday, August 26, 2007

Breast Cancer and Robin Roberts

When “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I hated the fact that she had to deal with this dreaded disease; but on the other hand, who better than Robin Roberts to speak out about and educate our community on the most common cancer found in women today? In October of 1985 the first National Breast Cancer Awareness Month program (NBCAM) took place. This week-long event, sponsored by the two founding members, the American Academy of Family Physicians and Cancer Care Inc., used media and brochures before a U.S. Congressional committee to spread the word about the need for access to mammography and the importance of early detection and treatment of breast cancer. A valiant effort this was, but the personal testimonies and survivors of the disease is what gives us hope and I applaud Ms. Roberts for her courage.

So what is breast cancer? In the breast there are living cells. Everyday these cells divide, grow and die. Sometimes these cells grow out of control and can form a lump or a mass in the breast called tumors. Breast tumors, in general, are classified as benign or malignant/cancerous. Benign tumors pose little health risk once removed and they are not cancer causing. Malignant tumors are abnormal cells that if undetected can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Approximately 212,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the United States during 2007. Approximately 1700 men, yes that’s right MEN, will be diagnosed and roughly 460 will die from breast cancer in 2007. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in African American women and the second leading cause of death among African American women, exceeded only by lung cancer. Unfortunately, African American women have higher breast cancer death rates than women of any other racial or ethnic population.

Those at risk for breast cancer include: females, women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (ancestors from Central or Eastern Europe), African American Women, those who are getting older, individuals with a family history of breast cancer, having a previous personal history of breast cancer, first period before age 12, late menopause (after age 55), a woman that has never had children or has her first child after age 30, women who are obese, those who don’t exercise, those of high socioeconomic status, drinking alcohol and those who do no breast-feed.

The symptoms of breast cancer can be vague, but include a lump or hard painless knot in the breast; swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast; change in breast size or shape; dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast; itchy, scaly, sore or rash on the nipple; bloody nipple discharge; a nipple that retracts. If you have any of these signs or symptoms you should see your doctor right away. Remember, if detected early breast cancer can be treated.

There are two different stages of testing for breast cancer: screening and diagnostic. Screening test, like the mammograms look for signs of disease in women without symptoms. Mammograms should be done at least once between the ages of 35-40 in women without risk factors and annually after age 40. For women with increased risk factors or a previous history of breast cancer, mammography is done more frequently. Diagnostic test, such as MRI’s, bone scans, ultrasounds, biopsies and blood test are done once breast cancer is suspected or diagnosed. In depth treatment options are beyond the scope of this article, but do include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and or surgery. Treatment options are determined by the type and stage of breast cancer.

So join Robin Roberts and others in the fight against breast cancer. For more information on breast cancer visit these sites: The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation ( 800 I’m AWARE; National Cancer Institute ( 800 4 CANCER; American Cancer Society ( 800 ACS 2345. You can also visit my web site ( and shoot me a question at

Oh, and by the way, here are a few people you may have heard of that have been affected by breast cancer:

Richard Roundtree (Actor-Shaft, yeah I’m talking bout Shaft, shut yo’ mouth)
Anastacia (Singer)
Diahann Carroll (Actress)
Ruby Dee (Actress)
Nikki Giovanni (Professor and poet)
Cecilia De La Hoya (Mother of boxer Oscar De La Hoya)
Shirley Graham Dubois (Author, playwright, composer, activist and wife of W.E.B. Dubois)
Robin Roberts (Anchor Woman for Good Morning America)

(c) 2007 Rani Whitfield. This article was published August 26 2007 at