LOS ANGELES — Early detection is the key to helping women survive breast cancer, but medical experts say getting the message out remains a challenge. An organization called the Get In Touch Foundation promotes self-breast exams for women and regular medical checks for early treatment.
Breast cancer survivor Mary Ann Wasil is at an inner city high school, talking about breast health and breast cancer.
Some of the students have had family members with the disease but most know little about it. They are learning more through an educational tool called a daisy wheel, a small instructional device designed in the shape of the flower that teaches them how to do self exams and encourages medical screenings if they find anything abnormal. Their risk is low now, but will rise as they get older.
Wasil was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, at age 39.
“My son had just turned 10 and my daughters were 12 and 13 at the time, and I looked at them and I thought, I never had a family history of breast cancer. That is not true for them," she said.
A family history of breast cancer raises the risk. Wasil's efforts educating her children about the disease led to this educational program, which is now in 26 countries.
Breast cancer rates are higher in industrial countries like the United States, where one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. The World Health Organization says places like Africa have a much lower rate, partly because of differences in diet and lifestyle. But the breast cancer rate is increasing in the developing world, and industrial countries have a much higher rate of survival because of early detection and treatment.
The actress Angelina Jolie brought attention to the condition when she revealed last year she had both breasts removed in a double mastectomy after learning that a rare genetic mutation and her family history left her at high risk of breast cancer.
Jolie's doctor, Kristi Funk, says education and medical screenings are crucial.
“I tell my patients that while we all hope that there would be a cure or a vaccination or something that will just be the magic bullet to stop this disease from ever starting, it is a long ways away. And it is not even on the horizon. So currently our best defense against this disease is early detection. Early stage breast cancer is 98 percent curable," she said.
Dr. Funk and a colleague were honored by the Get In Touch Foundation at its annual luncheon in Los Angeles. Also present was actor Rob Lowe, who lost his mother and grandmother to breast cancer and is active in spreading the message about early detection.
“Inevitably I meet so many heroes, whether it is the heroism of fighting a tough disease or it is the heroism of people who do nothing but raise money to help people in this fight, or it is the doctors who are on the forefront of the medical technologies. So inevitably for me, I get inspired," he said.
Survivor Mary Ann Wasil is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of her cancer. She says she has never felt more alive, and is spreading the message that breast cancer can be beaten.