Susan Love Speaks Frankly on Women’s Health Issues

She is renowned for her brass tacks tome, Dr. Susan Lave’s Breast Book, dubbed by some the “bible for women with breast cancer.” And on October 2, she graced the Balch Auditorium stage and shared information about breast cancer and menopause with an audience comprised primarily of her target group.

To begin her remarks, advocate, author, practitioner, and philanthropist Dr. Susan Love called the murky medical area of women’s health a “work in progress.”

“For example, menopause was at one time interpreted as ovarian failure, leading to estrogen deficiency disease. Estrogen deficiency disease? Well,” she added dryly, “If that is, indeed, the case, then all men must suffer from it, and we must strive to help them!”

Today, of course, the medical community is more amenable to giving serious consideration to menopause and its treatment. Research regarding the controversial hormone replacement therapy, which is based on observational studies and has not conclusively proved any cause-effect relationship, has had more than its share of the spotlight, and Love rendered a quick outline of pros and cons.

“This treatment was once believed to be beneficial for preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and possibly Alzheimer’s. But on further investigation, it is now believed to lead to higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes and is no longer advised for patients at high risk of heart disease. Many professionals in the field are now leaning toward prescribing hormone replacement at a much lower level, which may still maintain bone density benefits but have fewer risks related to heart disease and breast cancer.”

The good news, Love added, is that women no longer have to make an irrevocable decision if they choose hormone therapy as menopausal treatment. Levels of supplemental hormones can be constantly modified to fit the individual patient’s needs and to quickly respond to new medical findings on benefits and risks.

When it comes to breast cancer, however, it is an entirely different ballgame, simply because ofits appellation -“cancer”- this widespread disease is always dealt with as deadly serious in the medical community.

But Love noted that a major shift is underway in understanding and treating cancer. Once regarded by researchers as “foreign invader cells that needed to be killed,” cancer is now understood to be a creation from within, namely our own unique cellular makeup that has somehow gone wrong.

Pharmaceutical response, therefore, has likewise been tailored to treat these “terrorist cells.”

New treatments, such as herceptin, target specific mechanisms in the malignant cancer cells, while other treatments, such as tarnoxifen, change the environment in which the cancer cells live, keeping them, as Love put it, “well behaved.”

Fundamentally, the key to combating any disease is early and accurate diagnosis; breast cancer, Love hopes, is one blight on women’s health that someday may be eradicated through early detection and treatment.

“By the time a tumor is detected on a mammogram or physical exam, it has typically been present in the body for eight to ten years,” she told the stunned audience.

“I am, however, very optimistic about the potential for a new procedure known as ductal lavage. This technique uses cells rinsed out from the milk ducts in order to spot cancer at much earlier stages than is possible with conventional methods. I believe this technique will be particularly beneficial in studying prevention and screening of breast cancer. To this end,” Love concluded, “I have recently started a foundation dedicated to funding this area of research.”

What discussion on health is complete without the usual stem warning on personal daily health habits as first and best prevention?

To no one’s surprise, Love emphasized that the key to leading a long and healthy life is lifestyle, including regular exercise and a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

She did add, with a sparkle in her eye, that “chocolate is a vegetable, since it comes from a bean. Naturally, I count it as one of my five serving of fruits and vegetables.”