as published in
by Stabroek staff in Local News
January 12, 2010
"New Breast Cancer Campaign Spotlighting Alcohol Risks on the Cards"
A new breast cancer awareness programme focusing on the risks associated with alcohol may soon become a reality, according to breast surgeon Dr Kathleen Ruddy.
Dr Ruddy spoke with Stabroek News during a recent five-day visit to Guyana from the US, on the invitation of Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy. Dr Ruddy met the minister at McGill University in Montreal, where he is a consultant. According to Dr Ruddy, because of the minister’s interest in identifying ways to prevent breast cancer in Guyana, he invited her in order to place more emphasis on creating a public health policy that would focus on prevention.
Figures provided by the Ministry of Health show that between 2006 and 2007 some 79 persons -one man and 78 women – died from breast cancer, making it the second deadliest cancer during that period; cancer of the digestive system took the most lives during that period – 206, including 109 men and 97 women. In those two years, 859 persons died from cancer – 406 men and 453 women.
During her visit, Dr Ruddy met many of the stakeholders in the public health system, with the aim of commissioning a local study breast cancer. She said while she has given some direction, the local officials are capable of conducting the research.
Dr Ruddy also met a local representative of the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation and during that meeting they discussed developing a programme to educate women about the risks of breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption. “There is and has been shown in multiple studies, a direct relationship between the amount of alcohol you drink and the risk of breast cancer, even to half a glass of wine,” Dr Ruddy explained. “Because there has been quite a lot of attention given to the potential cardiovascular benefits of wine, there has been an acceptance that drinking wine is not only part of hospitality but maybe beneficial. Well in fact that might be true for men and heart disease. It may even be true for women and heart disease, but the penalty is that it increases the risk of breast cancer,” Dr Rudy pointed out.
She noted that a study in the UK done among almost a million women highlighted a clear risk between drinking alcohol and an increased risk of breast cancer. “So that may be one of the easiest ways to get your arms around a public health care strategy to reduce the risk,” she said. As a result, her discussion with the Avon representative focused on having the company sponsor a programme to sensitise women on the risk between breast cancer and alcohol consumption. “When we talk about education and outreach, I think we have to power it up appropriately and give it the attention that it needs that it is more than just education; it becomes education with a purpose. That there is a personal purpose to save the patient unnecessary grief and aggravation, there is a purpose to preserve public treasure, in terms of money, if you are not spending it on breast cancer you can spend it on infrastructure, education…” Dr Ruddy said.
She added that the Avon representative and the minister seem to be very interested in making the public health education a reality.
Giving a background of her involvement in the right against breast cancer, Dr Ruddy said her mother was diagnosed with the disease when she was in her early forties – she is still alive – and because she was touched personally she later decided to work in the area. Dr Ruddy is the founder and president of the Breast Health & Healing Foundation, created in 2008 to focus on the causes of disease and find ways to prevent it. “I felt that very little attention was being given to either of those subjects, causes and prevention, and that in the face of literally hundred of thousands of new cases of breast cancer around the world that we weren’t doing our jobs as health care leaders if we were not trying to identify causes and prevention of the disease,” Dr Ruddy said.
The doctor said she is particularly interested in the virus “that is possibly related to human breast cancer. It is called the mouse memory tumour virus and the human memory tumour virus; we think they are actually the same thing. I call it the pink virus because I think it is easier for women to understand.”
She said the virus was discovered in 1936 by a researcher, John Binder, working in Minnesota who had found a strain of mice that he bred in certain way and found they had a very high incidence of breast cancer while there were other strains of mice that had a low incidence. Through the years and following much research, Dr Ruddy said the researcher was able to take the milk from the mice and identify the milk agent, the infectious agent that was able to pass through breast milk and impart breast cancer.
Following sixty years of research by the few people who wanted to know if the virus that could cause breast cancer in mice could also do so in women, there is a suggestion that a portion of human breast cancer may be related to a virus. “Now it is never just a virus, anymore than it is just ever it is just one thing that causes anything else so men are obviously exposed to the virus as much as women are but men don’t get breast cancer as much as women do, so you need to be a woman primarily although evidence has shown that there is a very high evidence of this virus in men that get breast cancer,” she said. “But we need to answer this question once and for all, does this virus cause breast cancer in women because if the answer is no then we can take that off the table. However, if the answer is yes and there is evidence to suggest that the answer may be yes, then once we get to the answer… there would be a whole new horizon of opportunities to prevent the disease, to treat that form of the disease differently and in so doing take huge numbers of breast cancers off the table,” she said adding that millions of lives could be saved and billion of dollars.