Sheryl Crow Battles Breast Cancer

Rocker Sheryl Crow, who announced Friday that she had "minimally invasive" surgery for cancer and would now have radiation therapy, is no stranger to the disease.

Her ex-fiancé, Lance Armstrong, and her good friend Melissa Etheridge both survived the disease, and she has performed at benefits to fight cancer.

Crow, 44, is also not the only rock queen to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Etheridge got the news in October 2004 at the age of 43. She made a courageous appearance at the Grammys after chemotherapy, showing off her bald head. The bombshell came last May for pop star Kylie Minogue, 36. Singer Anastacia was diagnosed when she was 29 and is lobbying for insurance companies to pay for mammograms in younger women. Olivia Newton-John got breast cancer when she was 44. She had a radical modified mastectomy and has been cancer-free for 14 years.

A Very Common Disease

"Breast cancer is a very common disease. We get kind of used to it," said Susan Love of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. "Over 500 women a day are diagnosed."

But celebrities like Etheridge and Crow could raise the level of awareness about breast cancer, which is particularly important considering how many women are afflicted by the disease, Love said.

When Love began practicing, she said that one in 10 women was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, that statistic is one in seven. She said this is because detection is much more advanced and often happens earlier.

Despite the famous cases in young women, the average age for diagnosis with breast cancer is 61, Love said. In fact, 77 percent of the cases occur in women older than 50.

"It's just that it's a bigger story when it happens in younger women," Love said. "It's more tragic. If Sheryl Crow were 70, people would be less excited. It can happen in young women. Mammography doesn't work well in young women, and self-examinations aren't great either. We desperately need better screening for women."

Love said younger women had denser breasts while older women had more fat. In younger women, the cancer tissue is white, just like the breast tissue, which makes it hard to see in a mammogram.

"We need something that will find cells that could become cancerous, and that's not happening," she said.

There were more than 211,000 new cases in 2005. African-American women are the most afflicted, according to the Mayo Clinic. Breast cancer killed 40,410 women in 2005, but the death rate has fallen 25 percent since 1990, according to the clinic.

Mammogram screening reduced deaths by 15 percent, and experts say that women should begin breast self-exams at 20 years old.

Crow Likely to Recover

Crow's prognosis is excellent, according to her announcement.

"I am inspired by the brave women who have faced this battle before me and grateful for the support of family and friends," she said.

Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, said he was "confident she will have a full and complete recovery and the world will be a better place for it."

Love said that there were six different kinds of breast cancer and that treatments could be tailor-made to each patient.

"The biggest difference is targeting the therapy more precisely, getting beyond one-size-fits-all and targeting the tumors for their signature," Love said. "There may be six different kinds of breast cancer based on their DNA. Having the treatment specific for that kind of tumor, we're seeing much better results personalizing the treatment to the tumor."

Love also said that a recent Johns Hopkins study done on rats showed that it may be possible to prevent cancer, which she said is more exciting than finding a cure.

For more information on Dr. Susan Love's work, visit http://susanlove.org/ .

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