Symposium discusses breast cancer research

Approximately 130 breast cancer survivors and women recently diagnosed with the disease filled a hall in the new Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education Saturday morning. The gathering, which was a part of Y-ME of Conn. and Yale Cancer Center’s 14th Annual Breast Cancer Symposium, featured a panel of expert physicians who provided information on the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

The Symposium, titled “Breast Cancer: Never Too Young, Never Too Old,” featured keynote speaker Larry Norton, M.D., the head of the Solid Tumor Division of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The panel featured Bruce Haffty, M.D., Harriet Kluger, M.D., and Donald Lannin, M.D. of Yale School of Medicine.

Dr. Norton spoke about ways to help lower one’s risk of developing breast cancer, including staying active.

“If you are an athlete in high school or college, you have a lower tendency to develop cancer in life,” Dr. Norton said.

After explaining the causes of breast cancer, he addressed the main question of his speech, entitled “Is Young Age a Prognostic Factor of Value in the Management of Breast Cancer?” Using a graph showing cancer growth versus time, he showed that the only difference between generations is that a young woman will have a faster-growing tumor than an older woman. But he said a lot of people in older generations get inferior treatment because of their age.

Joanne Penta, a resident of Branford, said she wished that she had this information when her 84-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Just because you are older, it doesn’t mean your cancer is too far gone,” Penta said.

As a regular participant in the annual Y-ME symposium, Penta said that she always enjoys the gathering because every time she comes, she learns at least one new thing. She referred to the recently discovered benefits of certain depression and cholesterol medications discussed at this year’s symposium.

The panel also discussed traditional treatments and procedures such as lumpectomy and mastectomy, as well as other treatments such as Cox-2 inhibitors, a medication that slows cancer growth.

Despite recent advances, Richard Edelson, M.D., director of the Yale Cancer Center, said breast cancer is still prevalent.

“In Connecticut alone, there will be 2,000 new patients diagnosed with [breast] cancer this year,” he said.

For this reason, the Dr. Norton panel stressed the necessity of continued research in cancer.

“If you don’t start with the biology,” Dr. Norton said, “you can’t understand everything else.”

But Norton said he is optimistic that a young girl born today will not have to worry about cancer in the future.

“Every time I see a cancer get cured, it is always by slow, steady process,” Dr. Norton said.

Y-ME is a national organization founded in 1978 that provides support and information to patients diagnosed with breast cancer. Run primarily by approximately 50 trained volunteers, Y-ME of Connecticut offers a 24-hour phone line for women with questions and concerns about their condition.

Sylvia Patterson, office manager and administration manager of Y-ME of Connecticut and a 17-year survivor herself, said callers are matched with volunteers with similar experiences, giving women inside information so that no one faces breast cancer alone.

“The hotline is for men as well, either with breast cancer or going through this with their spouses,” Peterson said. “We speak to sisters, daughters, mothers — it is endless in ways we can help.”

Speakers address over 100 breast cancer survivors and patients at a symposium on the disease held at the School of Medicine Saturday morning.
Cody Dashiell-Earp
Speakers address over 100 breast cancer survivors and patients at a symposium on the disease held at the School of Medicine Saturday morning.

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