President Felicia Davis presenting Dr. Lawrence with a Cricket Hall of Fame bat.
Dr. Camelia Lawrence’s speech at the tea party
Thank you I’ll start out by saying thank you so much for the awards and recognition. I truly appreciate it. Maggie and I have known each other for quite some time. The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is something that we take very seriously and we’ve always been willing to educate and informing and empowering our communities to make choices in terms of their screening mammography.
Breast cancer globally is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. And what I am here to tell you tonight is that breast cancer when caught early is a very treatable disease. In fact, in the United States alone there is over 3.5 million survivors and that’s because of the advances that we’ve made since 1990 in terms of screening mammography, diagnosis and the treatment of breast cancer. However, with that statistics another statistical data point that’s worth sharing is that women of color are twice as likely to die of this disease. It is multi factorial and probably has to do with the stage at which you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
I cannot tell you how often in my office, I still see women who come in with very large breast masses or masses that have already left the breast and is elsewhere in body which renders her no longer a surgical candidate. Breast cancer when caught in its earliest stage, stage 0, breast cancer is very treatable. The five-year survival of those is about 95 to 99%.
The current recommended guideline for women is that you should begin your screening mammography at age 40. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer that age may even be sooner. The majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have absolutely no family history of breast cancer. And I am going to repeat that again. The majority of women, more than 70% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer they are the first in their families. No family history.
So often when I am out in the community and giving talks and interacting with women who say, well I haven’t gone yet but it doesn’t run in my family. There is no body who has ever had it. Well you are the one who is going to get it. You know, I just like you are just as susceptible. There is no history in my family but every year I go for my screening mammogram because I know that I am susceptible to this disease. And our best ammunition until we secure a cure for this disease is to find the disease at its earliest stage. Breast cancer is a very manageable disease especially when diagnosed in its earliest stage.
Some of you may have had your mammogram and you were told to come back six months for a short interval re-assessment, please go back and get your mammogram done. What they are looking for is accessing for any progression or change. If you are recommended for biopsy of the breast have the biopsy done. The biopsy is the only way to definitively clinch the diagnosis of breast cancer. If you have dense breasts, they may recommend an ultra sound in addition to your mammogram. And I’ll explain to you what dense breast essentially means.
About 40% of women have dense breasts. You are just born that way. It’s nothing that you have done or nothing that you could do to eliminate the dense breast tissue. But the breast is made up of fatty tissues. It is also made up of what we call fibrous tissues in simple explanation. The fatty tissues when you take a picture of it, it all shows up as black. The fibrous tissue when you take a picture. An x-ray picture which what a mammogram is, it shows up as white. And women who have dense breasts they have more of that fibrous tissue that shows up as white. So, when you take the picture you see mostly white. Well guess what shows up as white on your mammogram? Breast cancer. So, if you have a very dense breast in the picture that you are taking you are getting a lot of white on that picture. And if you have breast cancer it can easily blend in with the background. So that’s the whole idea behind a woman who have a fatty tissue breast when you take a picture most of it the background is black. If you are developing a new cancer you see that nice white spot right there with the black background, it is easily detectable. Whereas if you have dense breasts, it blends in with the tissue.
So what we do, we to circumvent or to mitigate that challenge is that we also ask women to do an ultrasound moving slowly through the breast tissue making sure that there are no abnormalities within the breast. So, I have had patients that I recommend that they have a mammogram done and the mammogram is read as negative. It is benign. The radiologist doesn’t see anything. But they have an ultrasound done and mass is found in the ultrasound. And a biopsy is done which then clinch the diagnosis of cancer. So that’s why it is so important that if you have dense breast and your radiologist or your physician recommends that you have an ultrasound done don’t just say, well I have my mammogram done. Go ahead and get the ultrasound done so that you can have a better complete and thorough evaluation.
The other thing I’ll touch on as well is male breast cancer. We often don’t think that men can get breast cancer. Men do get breast cancer. In the US every year approximately 3,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer, that’s about 1 in 2,000. It is usually associated with a genetic mutation.