Sept. 25, 2003 – Early detection saves lives when it comes to breast cancer as well as other cancers, Veronica O'Brien Powell, a certified nurse midwife at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John, points out.
Powell's remark is at the core of the observance in the Virgin Islands and throughout the nation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
She said that if breast cancers are detected early, treatment is easier and survival is more likely. "The scary stories come at end stage cancer," she said.
Following are some symptoms of breast cancer. Anyone experiencing any of them should see a doctor immediately:
– A lump, hard knot or thickening of the breast.
– Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening.
– Change in size or shape.
– Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
– Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple.
– Pulling of the nipple or other parts.
– Sudden onset of discharge from the nipple.
– Sudden onset of pain in one spot.
On St. Croix, each Saturday from Oct. 4 through Nov. 1, women can get mammograms at less than half the usual cost through the local unit of the American Cancer Society in partnership with the Imaging Center. Those wishing to take advantage of this opportunity need to go by the Cancer Society office in the Sunny Isle Professional Building to make an appointment and pay the $20 registration fee.
An additional of $60 will be payable at the Imaging Center in the Island Medical Center, for a total cost of $80. This compares with the usual cost of $162. For more information, call the society offices at 778-2882.
On St. John, the women's health staff at Myrah Keating Smith will conduct free breast screenings and blood pressure checks, show breast self-examination videos, provide referrals for mammograms and pap smears, and hand out coupons for half-price mammograms at St. Thomas Radiology Associates on St. Thomas.
All of these services will be available on all four Tuesdays in October:
– At the health center on Oct. 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
– At the Coral Bay fire station on Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
– At the health center on Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
– At the health center on Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Powell said St. John women must travel to St. Thomas to get their mammograms because there is no equipment to carry out the procedure on St. John. "It would be great if we had a mobile unit," she said.
On St. Thomas, certificates for the half-price mammograms can be picked up at the office of the St. Thomas-St. John Unit of the American Cancer Society. The office is located in Suite 18 of the Medical Arts Complex.
Dr. George Rosenberg at St. Thomas Radiology Associates said that mammography is the most important tool in detecting breast cancer. He suggested that women start getting annual mammograms at age 40.
During October, mammograms cost $90 at St. Thomas Radiology Associates; at other times, the cost if $180 to $250. Since most insurance plans cover yearly mammograms, the October special rates are aimed at people who don't have such insurance coverage. Here, too, the mammograms must be scheduled; appointments may be made by calling 774-0265.
According to data provided by the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, an estimated 211,300 women and 1,300 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. And an estimated 39,800 women and 400 men will die of the disease.
Foundation statistics indicate that breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 40 and 59. The majority of breast cancers occur in women with no known risk factors, and the risk increases with age. More white women than black women develop breast cancer, but black women are more likely to die of the disease.
When the cancer is confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate is more than 95 percent.
The Internet is chockful of Web sites offering statistics and information on breast cancer. The Komen Foundation site is particularly interesting because the organization has done lots of work to promote breast cancer awareness.
The foundation was formed by Susan B. Komen's sister, Nancy Brinker, after Komen died of breast cancer. The story of her illness is gripping and should put a good scare into anyone dawdling about getting care. Read it at the Susan's story page of the foundation Web site.
The Health Department's Breast and Cervical Cancer Offices on St. Thomas and St. Croix have no events planned to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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