Dr. Susan Love Studies Healthy Women to Further Breast Cancer Research
“It’s not our daughter’s problem, it’s not our niece’s problem, it’s not our granddaughter’s problem, it’s our problem. And we need to be the generation that stops it.” Those stirring words about breast cancer come from Dr. Susan Love, in a recent interview with ABC News.
Who among us hasn’t heard of Dr. Love? Her book, “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” is routinely recommended to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. Originally written in 1990, now in its fourth fully revised edition (2005), this nearly 700-page “breast bible” tells you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your breasts–and then some.
Dr. Love, originally a surgeon, has become a top-notch breast cancer research advocate. Through the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, she’s spent years advancing a theory about breast cancer prevention that was originally developed by a South American researcher in 1946. Namely, that examining cells from a healthy woman’s milk ducts can predict the likelihood of her getting breast cancer at some point during her lifetime.
Love has been painstakingly researching this “intraductal” approach to breast cancer prediction since the mid-1980s. “What we’ve needed is something like a Pap smear for breast cancer,” she writes in her book. “Something that would be able to find abnormal cells, cancerous or not, before they have developed the ability to spread outside the breast, when they can be treated and the progression reversed.” In other words, a way to discover cancer at the cellular level, before it’s visible to even the most sensitive MRI.
The Army of Women
Now, Dr. Love has recruited an “army of women” to help further her foundation’s research. These women are healthy; they’ve never endured a breast cancer diagnosis. But they’re willing “to actually put your body on the line to try and find an end to breast cancer,” said Love.
And what does this army do? Each of them has volunteered to undergo what amounts to a biopsy in order to donate ductal fluid from their breasts. Researchers will examine this fluid not only for precancerous cells, as they’ve been doing for years; but for cancer markers, telltale signs of change in breast cells that can signal the possibility of cancer in the future. This search for markers–an example would be a certain protein secreted by cancerous cells that’s absent in healthy cells–is fairly new. And, in order to compare the markers generated by cancer cells, researchers need normal, healthy cells, as well. And that’s where Dr. Love’s “army of women” comes in.
“It’s very unusual to use healthy human beings when you’re doing an invasive kind of medical research,” noted Lawrence Gostin of the Georgetown University Law Center, quoted in the ABC News interview. He went on to caution women considering joining Dr. Love’s project to “Make sure you know what you’re doing, understand the risks”–not just physical, but psychological. Those of us who’ve been through a biopsy didn’t have much choice; but would we willingly put ourselves through it, just for the sake of possibly helping someone else? These women deserve our thanks.
“I think there’s a feeling that you are so helpless, and you want to do something proactive to fight it, “ said volunteer Jan Miller of Los Angeles. (Her daughter, Elizabeth, is a friend of mine. Elizabeth, mother of three young children, is battling breast cancer). “There’s real power to a group of women who are committed to working on something,” added Miller. Here’s to the power of women as we band together to find our own best breast cancer “cure”–prevention.