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Actress Diahann Carroll Helps Launch Breast Cancer Web Site

Education effort aims to dispel common myths about the disease

TUESDAY, July 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- With a show of support from actress Diahann Carroll, a Web site was launched Tuesday as part of a national campaign that aims to draw attention to the harsh realities of breast cancer.

The Web site, strengthinknowing.com, seeks to separate fact from fiction by way of breast cancer statistics, risk factor information, and screening options. Emphasis is placed on the notion that many women do not realize that age -- not family history -- is the primary risk factor for developing breast cancer.

Carroll does not need any educating on that point.

In 1998, the first black actress in TV history to star in her own series (Julia, for NBC) was diagnosed with the disease, ultimately undergoing both surgery and radiation therapy.

Drawing on personal experience, Carroll expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the campaign's effort to spread vital information about the disease to people -- particularly older women -- who may not know where to turn.

"My participation is primarily because this is an educational situation for women," she said.

"I lived through it myself at the age of 63," she noted, "and really for the first time in my life I was confronted with, 'How do I manage this time in my life? What do I do?' And I did not have the advantage of strengthinknowing.com."

The campaign is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH), in conjunction with Eli Lilly & Co.

While the site does not recommend treatment options, it does highlight some basic facts about the disease.

The campaign emphasizes that breast cancer is second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer to strike American women, with about 200,000 new breast cancer cases annually in the United States. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer fatalities among women, the site notes.

Detailed information on various breast cancer screening options -- such as mammography, self-exams and in-clinic exams -- is also offered.

The site also presents the results of a January 2006 online Harris poll concerning breast cancer perceptions. The survey, which was also co-commissioned by the NPWH and Eli Lilly, focused on breast cancer awareness among 1,158 women aged 35 and up.

Just under 1,000 of the women had gone for a mammogram, and 82 percent of these women had done so within the past three years.

Yet despite this high mark for proactive preventive screening, the poll revealed that those over the age of 55 were far more concerned about heart disease (63 percent) and Alzheimer's (60 percent) than breast cancer (37 percent).

Also, more than two-thirds of all the women indicated that a family history of breast cancer was either "very" or "extremely" important in assessing their own risk.

The educational portion of the Web site goes to great lengths to debunk such "cancer myths," pointing out that 85 percent of women who get breast cancer -- including Carroll herself -- have absolutely no family history of the illness.

In response to the finding that 75 percent of the women did not realize that being over the age of 50 is itself the greatest risk for developing breast cancer, the site stresses that breast cancer risk actually increases with age -- with the majority of cases occurring among woman over the age of 50.

Statistical information underlines that fact, noting that while one in 229 women will develop breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39, that risk rises dramatically to one in 37 for women in their 50s, and one in 26 for women in their 60s.

Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and president and CEO of NPWH, said the campaign is a comprehensive effort to correct some widespread misperceptions and provide accurate information about breast cancer.

"First of all, the campaign focuses on letting women know what their risk for breast cancer is," said Wysocki. "And the reason behind this campaign is that older women really do have it flipped about what their risk is. They think that if you didn't get it before menopause, then the risk is gone."

"There is a lot of competition for health concerns, and older women get focused on heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis -- all of which are important health concerns. But that doesn't mean that the concern about breast cancer should go away," she added.

Carroll seconded that thought.

"Once you've heard the word cancer, it never really leaves your life," she said. "It's devastating and it's overwhelming, and it does have a play in your life for the rest of your life."

"But," she added, "I understood that my health is completely up to me. And I want to remind people of that. People are afraid of their doctors, and we forget that the doctors are there to service us."

More information

For more on the education campaign, visit Strength in Knowing. For additional information on breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Diahann Carroll, actress; Susan Wysocki, president and CEO, National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health, Washington, D.C.
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