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
And if I tell you the number of women that I see with cancer in my office who haven’t been going every year and will skip two or three years and then they get the cancer.MORE: Right.DuPree: The way that I look at it, if they’re not getting their mammograms, are they more stressed in their life? Do they have other things that are pushing their buttons? If you’re too busy in your life, and you’re too stressed to take the time to take care of you, what kind of havoc [are you] wrecking on your body? To me, they are very related. It’s one of those things, you have a birthday, get a mammogram. It is the easiest thing to remember. None of us over 40 forget our birthdays. For God’s sake, we celebrate every year, so why not get your mammogram for your birthday? MORE: Right.DuPree: That’s easy because getting an annual mammogram doesn’t require research. It just requires women to be empowered to take care of themselves and to use what we already have out there. The other thing that’s really been in the news is digital mammography. Digital mammography enhances our ability to find cancers in young women. Meaning women under 50, women with very dense breasts. So it really should be the screening tool for that particular population of dense-breasted women and the women who are still menstruating.MORE: How widespread, availability-wise, is digital mammography?DuPree: It’s not. It is in probably less than 10 percent of the mammography units in the country. And this is the big thing that has kind of kept it a secret. No matter what your insurance is, they can’t tell you where to go for your screening mammogram. And what primary-care doctors, gynecologists, and other physicians usually do is to send patients to places where their insurance will pay for the screening and the diagnostic and for the ultrasound and all the other stuff. But what the problem is, if you’re not getting the best screening tools, could they be missing something. That’s where I think if women are ever going to spend healthcare dollars outside their insurance plans, that’s [an area] that makes a difference. So women can get a screening digital mammography. They may be required to go elsewhere for ultrasound, additional views, or for an MRI. But if something is picked up on the screening digital mammogram that isn’t on the analog or conventional mammogram, their insurance company is going to have to send them back for additional digital imaging. You know, they can’t deny them that service. Digital is a very expensive proposition; most of the digital places are equipped with what we call CAD, which is computer-aided diagnostic, which is like having a second set of eyes look at the mammogram. Like in addition to having human eyes look at it, the computer looks at it as well. MORE: Would you go so far as to say if you have unlimited funds you would use them toward getting more digital mammogram machines in more places?DuPree: I think that would be very important. If we’ve got the technology to make it better, let everybody have access to the technology. Yeah, and if I had unlimited funds for research, what I would really like to prove — which I already have kind of proven it to myself in my own practice — is that holistic therapies such as reiki, massage, reflexology, and guided imagery complement your conventional therapies. If I had unlimited funds, I would like to prove that those therapies make a difference in every aspect from survival to overall wellness. I use them in my practice. I speak at a lot of national conferences about this because I have become one of the few breast cancer surgeons who has integrated that type of a concept into my practice.I do state-of-the-art Western medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I mean most patients are on clinical trials. We do the latest and greatest of all there is to have, but in addition to that we make sure our patients get what they need. Everybody needs something different. A 65-year-old woman who has never done yoga is probably not going to be into a vigorous kind of yoga session. But that is someone who might benefit from guided imagery, or she may benefit from massage or from reiki or from some modality that helps to center her spiritually.

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