Army of Women Fight Breast Cancer

There's an army in Los Angeles and the war they fight is cancer. Their weapons are a combination of science and love, and they are motivated by hope for a cure.

The group of women -- students, wives and mothers -- are so emotionally connected to breast cancer that they have offered up their own bodies to help doctors find a cure.

The women travel to a Los Angeles-area clinic, willing to be poked and prodded in the name of science at the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

It's a sisterhood of about 100 volunteers who undergo biopsies so that researchers can compare their healthy duct fluid to that affected with cancer.

"I want you to understand what we're looking for and why we're looking for it," Dr. Susan Love told the group in one of their first sessions.

It's a learning experience on both sides. While the doctors are able to learn from the tests conducted, the women in the group take away lessons on breast cancer.

"All breast cancer starts in the lining of the milk ducts," Love explained.

"Tell that fluid to come on down," Love added, instructing the patients to massage their own breasts, so she could capture fluid.

If massaging didn't work, the breast was numbed and a scope detected the location of the duct and a catheter drew out the liquid.

"It is less painful than going to the dentist for a routine cleaning," volunteer Deb Strick said.

Why They Participate

Another group member, Jan Miller, said she comes because of her daughter, a mother of three struggling through chemotherapy.

"I think there's a feeling that you are so helpless, and you want to do something pro-active to fight it," Miller said.

Volunteer Debbie Streiber spent 20 years as a nurse caring for cancer patients.

"I feel that Dr. Love is on the cutting edge of making something happen," Streiber said.

Love, a surgeon turned activist, gathered her army of nearly 100 women, young and old, and the funding to make it go.

"This is yet another way to be part of the solution, to actually put your body on the line to try and find an end to breast cancer," Love said.

Her team processes the samples and ships them to private research projects at universities around the country.

"People say to me, 'Can you really eradicate breast cancer? That's an audacious goal,'" she said. "And I say, 'No, we can; we can do it in one generation.'"

Risky Business?

While Love takes precautions so her research is above board, some experts warn that using healthy subjects always requires extra care.

"It's very unusual to use healthy human beings when you're doing an invasive kind of medical research," said Lawrence Gostin, public health expert at the Georgetown University Law Center. "When it does happen, you have to double your safeguards and be even more cautious."

Gostin has advice for any healthy women offering up their bodies for medical research.

"I would caution them, 'Make sure that you know what you're doing, understand the risks -- not only the risk of physical harm, which I think is low, but psychological harm and the risks to your privacy,'" he said.

The ladies working with Love's project view their contributions not so much as a sacrifice, but rather a rallying cry.

"There is a real power to a group of women who are committed to working on something," volunteer Jan Miller said.

Love just received a grant from the Avon Foundation to create a dipstick or "band-aid" that would test breast duct fluid for cancer markers.

"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," Love said, "and we need to be the generation that stops it."

To find out more about Dr. Susan's Love's Research Foundation call (310) 230-1712 or click here.

For information on a similar breast cancer research project using breast tissue from healthy women contact:

Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo, Prof of Medicine

Director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank

Indiana University Simon Cancer Center