A Deadly Cancer Myth

That certainly didn't stop the media from spreading the news around the world that surgery could make cancer survival worse.

But this doesn't mean the underlying concept is incorrect.

After all, one of the authors of these reports is affiliated with one of the leading cancer vascular research labs in the country, if not the world. The investigators in this lab are noted for their innovative ideas, which, when first conceived, were considered radical and outside the mainstream.

Ultimately, their idea about blocking the development of blood vessels that enable certain cancers to grow led to the discovery of one of the most successful drugs used today to treat cancer and macular degeneration. That drug is bevacizumab, better known by its trade name, Avastin.

Deadly Disparities in Treatment

Now, however, we come to the current paper, published in a recent issue of the same journal.

The title of the article suggested that this theory is a possible explanation for some of the increased mortality of breast cancer in premenopausal African-American women.

African-American women disproportionately continue to suffer the burden of unequal access to medical care and insurance. Their rates for mammography are lower than they should be.

Almost all experts agree that these are the most significant factors which explain the poorer outcomes for African-American women with breast cancer in this country.

Now, the authors of this paper are saying the theory they proposed in 2005 may be part of the explanation.

In other words, if you are African-American and premenopausal, then -- according to their theory -- the removal of the primary cancer may stimulate the growth of otherwise dormant cancer cells elsewhere in the body, leading to a pattern of early recurrence.

What they ignore is that the reason for the increasing survival gap between African-American and Caucasian breast cancer patients may be due to the fact that African-American women are not receiving the same screening and treatment opportunities as others.

In other words, they suggest, if you are African-American and premenopausal and you get screened for breast cancer, you may do worse than if you left the cancer alone and found it on your own at some later point in time.

But it is important to note that in press interviews, one of the authors has made it very clear they are not recommending that African-American women skip screening for breast cancer or in any other way not follow the current recommendations for breast cancer treatment.

Conclusions Could Be Dangerously Misleading

There is no research done specifically for this paper and reported in this paper that supports this conclusion. It is a theory, plain and simple. Not a research paper supporting a theory -- just a theory.

In my opinion what they should be saying is that we need to do everything in our power to reduce the real disparities in health care.

We need to be certain that every woman in this country has access to state-of-the-art cancer screening and cancer treatment in this country. That is the most "curable" way to close the survival gap for breast cancer between African-American and white women in this country.

We have learned from experience that it is okay to have theories, and it is okay to do research in the laboratory and perhaps in the clinic to support your theory if your basic science research confirms your hypothesis. The world of science is built on that sequence.

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PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
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