Marianne Matthews

It was early evening about 15 years ago. I entered a charming little reflexology salon in a New York City brownstone. The proprietress, a women in her mid-40s, met me at the door and I settled into my chair anticipating 30 minutes of perfect pampering. But before she got to my feet, the phone rang. The next thing I knew, the owner was in tears. She had just found out that she had late-stage breast cancer. Lousy timing, I thought to myself.

When it comes to beating breast cancer, it’s all in the timing. For women, it’s about sticking to a schedule and getting that yearly mammogram. For those who are among the approximately 190,000 diagnosed with breast cancer each year, it’s very often about getting an early diagnosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from nonmelanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. Talk about bringing women together. Ironically, breast cancer—a great equalizer—does just that. But there is some good news about breast cancer—and again, it concerns timing. After monitoring a group of patients for 12 years, Canadian researchers have reported that 3 weeks of radiation treatment work just as effectively as the typical course of 5 weeks or more for women with early-stage breast cancers (The New York Times, September 23, 2008).

Results of the randomized clinical trial were reported in mid-September at the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting. In the study, 1,234 women with invasive breast cancer with pathologically clear margins and negative axillary nodes following lumpectomy were randomly allocated to accelerated hypofractionated whole breast irradiation over 22 days or over 35 days. After 10 years, the risk of local recurrence was “very low” and not significantly different in women treated with the accelerated approach (6.2%) and those treated with the standard approach (6.7%).

According to The New York Times report, “Experts say the new findings ? could change the standard of care in the United States.” The results, however, apply only to women similar to study participants—specifically, those with early cancers that were removed by lumpectomy and had not spread to the lymph nodes. Even so, this is uplifting news for women who want to get their treatment over with sooner and get on with their lives.

It’s that time of year again—Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That’s why we’ve chosen this month to include a special supplement on Women’s Imaging along with our regular issue. We hope you’ll read it; maybe even share it with your female patients. And share this cartoon, too. Because laughter is the best medicine, and there’s no better time for it than the present.

Marianne Matthews, editor