October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a timely bill passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law in July by Gov. Cuomo went into effect last month, authorizing “funding of mapping incidence of breast cancer from the Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund to qualified research institutions, organizations or agencies.”
This is “extremely important,” according to Dr. Manmeet Malik, a surgeon who recently joined the staff of the Breast Center at New York Hospital Queens, which is dedicated exclusively to the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of women with the disease and is the largest provider of such services in the borough.
“There are certain things that we know contribute” to the incidence of breast cancer, Malik said, “but we still don’t know the cause.”
The doctor indicated that through provisions of the new law “we would have more insight into what to further study.”
Malik suggested that studies thus far have indicated that there is “some sort of environmental factor” involved in incidence of breast cancer, though “we just don’t know what it is yet.”
There are, according to the doctor, “certain things in the environment that may contribute” to the disease.
She indicated, however, that while environmental factors have been “under a lot of investigation, we haven’t been able to find anything specific. A lot seems to do with lifestyle rather than environment.”
One of the law’s supporters, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), sees it as “another tool to aid in research,” saying, “The key is prevention rather than treatment. This hopefully will aid in prevention.”
The law will create a database that doctors and researchers can use to examine environmental and socioeconomic factors that affect the incidence of the disease, Stavisky said.
Along similar lines, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is widely regarded as the world’s largest breast cancer organization, announced in August $4.5 million in research funding aimed at more fully understanding the role that environmental issues play in breast cancer development.
The grants are part of Komen’s $42 million 2013 research portfolio, which includes more than $3.3 million in new funding to researchers at six New York institutions.
The new grants will build on research that Komen has already funded to more fully understand the role of nutrition, toxins and other environmental factors that may contribute to the disease.
Komen will also sponsor studies on the impact of radiation exposure during breast cancer screening and treatment, as well as on pollutants in areas where cancer rates are disproportionately high, on the impact of air pollution, and the role of synthetic chemicals in breast cancer development.
The New York State Department of Health Cancer Registry, based on information the agency gathers on New Yorkers diagnosed with cancer, indicated that during the period between 2006 and 2010, the average annual number of cases statewide was 14,604, or 127 per 100,000. In New York City, the average for the same time period dropped to 117 per 100,000.
Several areas of Queens are directly in line with the citywide figures. Northern Queens registered at 116 per 100,000, with west-central Queens and Southeast Queens each indicating 113 incidents per 100,000.
Scoring slightly below the average figures was Jamaica, which had 107 cases per 100,000; while Western Queens had 99 cases; and the southwest part of the borough had 96. Lowest of the entire borough was the northwest region, with an average of 94 reported cases.
Two areas scored higher than the city overall: Central Queens indicated 125 cases per 100,000, and Rockaway had 128.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, not counting some kinds of skin cancer, as of 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available, breast cancer in the United States remains the most common cancer in women, regardless of race or ethnicity.
That year, a total of 211,731 women and 2,001 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer, with 40,676 women and 400 men dying of the disease.
According to statistics published by the CDC, during that same year, New York State fell into the second highest of four intervals, based on the number of women who developed breast cancer. The number of women who died from the disease, however, placed the state in the second-lowest category.
According to Komen, major advances have already been made in the fight against breast cancer. The organization indicated that about 70 percent of women 40 and older now receive regular mammograms, the single most effective screening tool to find breast cancer early. Since 1990, early detection and effective treatment have resulted in a 33 percent decline in breast cancer mortality in the U.S.
In addition, Komen reports that in 1980, the five-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer was about 74 percent. Today that number is 98 percent.
Today, there are approximately three million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
The number of deaths can be further decreased by increasing public recognition of practices that lead to early detection — what Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all about — and treatment and ensuring that affordable treatment is available.
“The battle against breast cancer begins with information and early detection,” said Stavisky. “Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to improve public health in New York and raise awareness about this disease which impacts thousands of our friends and neighbors every year. I urge New Yorkers to join me in saving lives by spreading the message not only in the month of October but all year round.”