Interview with Beth DuPree, MD, Breast Cancer Surgeon and Author

Beth DuPree, a breast cancer expert and author, finds a balance between new medical technology like digital mammograms, and alternative therapies that can help beat breast cancer.

By Bari Nan Cohen

Beth DuPree, MD, FACS, is a partner in Comprehensive Breast Care Associates in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. She is also the author of The Healing Consciousness: A Doctor’s Journey to Healing (Woven Word Press).MORE: If you had unlimited funds and unlimited time, what is the one area of breast cancer research that you would want to pursue?Dr. Beth DuPree: One area? I can’t have two?MORE: Let’s start with one, and we’ll see.DuPree: Mammography saves lives, and women don’t get them annually. The number of women that get them annually is so much lower than the number of women that need to get them. I see women sometimes who have gotten mammograms annually, and then they don’t get them for three years. And that’s when they show up with cancer. When women get screened every year for mammography, the death rate from breast cancer drops 45 to 50 percent. It is astronomical the difference that it makes. The problem that occurs is that a lot of women get very complacent in their lives, and they stop making themselves a priority. So they forget to go, or they just put it off, or out of fear of finding a cancer, they don’t go. The bottom line is that they should be afraid about not finding a cancer soon enough. So, all the research in the world at this point can’t replace what we already have in place, which is early detection and women who don’t get their mammograms. It’s like going to the dentist. You have to do it once a year no matter what. I pulled up some numbers because I did a TV show this week, and they did research in this very affluent area in New Hampshire. Apparently four-fifths of the women said that they did get their mammograms. But when they actually checked, less than two-thirds had gone. And in that two-thirds, some of them only [went] every two years. So what they found was even in an affluent area where women have health insurance, where they have access to it, they don’t go. So think about the fact that we have a screening tool, and that it is not taken advantage of. Even before we look at the research for the future, that’s a huge, huge thing. What are we missing here? In our society, why are women not caring for themselves? If we can’t make a difference in our own lives, how do you make a difference in the world?MORE: There was, maybe in the last two years, some discussion that Breast Self-Examinations (BSE) don’t make a difference. DuPree: There was a very prominent breast surgeon who poo-pooed breast self-exam. But [with] screening and early detection, the death rate from cancer drops. A friend of mine, Lazlo Tabar, a radiologist in Sweden, has been one of the most phenomenal mammography education gurus in the world. He trains mammographers and breast surgeons all over the world to do breast care. Over a 20-year period, [when] they show the number of cancers diagnosed from early detection — the death rate drops off hugely. Look at the difference between what chemotherapy does for breast cancer versus what early detection does. Early detection by far kicks everybody else’s butt. The earlier you find [breast cancer], the less likely it is [to show up] someplace else. With breast self-exam, what came out publicly is that it didn’t change the death rate from breast cancer. But for the 20 percent of women whose cancers are not found mammographically, breast self-exam is still important. I am a firm believer in this, because I see a large number of young women, meaning under the age of 35. Had they not done their self-exam, they would not have found their cancer early, and they wouldn’t be alive 10 years later to tell about it. So, you know what, it may not statistically change the death rate of cancer, but in women whose cancers are not found by other means, it is incredibly important. This is the deal. You own [your breasts], they’re yours. Know them, examine them, feel them. If you’re more in touch with yourself, you are more likely to take better care of yourself, and you are more likely to get your mammograms and do the other things that you need in your life. It is so easy to put ourselves second to everybody else. That’s my first deal.MORE: That’s a great deal. I love it.DuPree: It comes before all research because it is something that we already have and don’t do.

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