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Commander's Experience Promotes Breast Health

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 1, 1997 – Halfway through her keynote speech at the 1997 DoD breast cancer conference, Dr. (Rear Adm.) Bonnie Potter got personal.

"The first clue that something was wrong was when the mammogram technician wanted more pictures," Potter said, recalling a July 1 breast cancer screening appointment. "The second clue was when the radiologist came down and said, 'We need to have a chat.'"

Potter planned to take command July 18 of the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. Now, she was being referred to the hospital's breast care clinic for a biopsy.

"I was worked up and knew I had a normal result -- no cancer -- in two weeks," Potter said. "I was very glad that we have a DoD breast cancer initiative. I saw firsthand how we have people who care and treat us so well."

Some 250 military health care professionals gathered here July 28-29 to review DoD's breast care initiative, designed to heighten awareness of breast care among beneficiaries of the defense health plan; increase research into detection, treatment and prevention of breast cancer; and make mammograms and other breast health programs more accessible.

Potter caught their attention with statistics that indicate breast cancer is on the rise in the United States. "Breast cancer accounts for one in three of all newly diagnosed cancers," she said. "An estimated 180,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Each year, almost 45,000 women die from the disease. Currently, one in eight women will develop breast cancer. In 1960, that figure was one in 14.

"The risk increases with age, a family history of breast disease [and] for women with previous breast cancer. Immigrant women don't have an increased risk, but their first generation offspring do, so there may be an external cause." Without a known cause or cure, she said, "we are all susceptible."

Although she's seen vast improvements in breast care, Potter said, breast disease still presents a significant medical challenge. She called for improvements in research, detection and access to the military health care system, which she said will lead to "improved survival through early detection and treatment."

Women and their physicians need to know more about breast care, she said. "Women need quick access, good treatment and care, and people sensitive to the psychosocial stress of breast cancer."

Potter said all women should follow a three-pronged approach to breast care: monthly self-exams, periodic professional exams and mammography. "It's amazing to me how many women don't do self-exams or have mammograms at appropriate intervals," she said. "That tells me the DoD initiative is very important to our beneficiaries."

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