Breast cancer striking women of all ages, races
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.
Jack Moyer watched helplessly as breast cancer took the life of his daughter, Kathy, and then, just one month later, the disease also struck his wife, Alison.
BREAST CANCER FACTS
Breast cancer incidence rates
Per data released in 2009, incidence rates for breast cancer per 100,000 population were:
The U.S.: 122
Alachua County: 137.6
Marion County: 119.7
Alachua County: Average of 150 new cases of breast cancer every year, with about 25 related deaths.
Marion County: Average of 300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and about 55 die of the disease.
Kathy Moyer was 32 when she was diagnosed. She died eight years later, on April 18, 2011, at the age of 40. Alison Moyer (Kathy’s stepmother) is 57 and is in her second year of treatments.
The two women represent opposite extremes in age-related demographic studies on breast cancer, with the highest incidences involving white females over age 50 and some of the lowest numbers involving white women younger than 50.
Kathy, a former school teacher in Massachusetts, had a lumpectomy, followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She then tried a holistic approach, but the cancer kept coming back and began to spread. During the last year of her life, she moved to her father’s home in Ocala and pursued medical treatments at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville. But it was too late, Jack Moyer said.
“Kathy didn’t treat it aggressively, and it came back eight times,” he said. “It was a losing battle. It’s tragic. You’re not supposed to live longer than your kids.”
Meanwhile, Alison had missed her annual mammogram by two months. Her breast cancer was diagnosed as a stage 2 aggressive ductal carcinoma and had already moved into her lymph nodes. Alison, a registered nurse in The Keys, chose an aggressive treatment regimen.
“My wife is going to beat this,” Jack Moyer said. “Her checkups show she’s cancer-free. I turned it all over to God. It’s too much for me to deal with alone.”
In a study from 2005 to 2009, the National Cancer Institute showed the median age at death from breast cancer as 68.
The American Cancer Society’s Florida Division reports that Alachua County has an average of 150 new cases of breast cancer every year and about 25 related deaths. In Marion County, an average of 300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and nearly 55 women die of the disease.
While Caucasian women have the highest incidence of breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die of the disease.
Hispanic women who move to America experience a higher rate of breast cancer than those who remain in their homeland. It is believed that environment and a change in diet may be factors.
According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website, there is a greater risk of breast cancer among lesbian and bisexual women, who have higher rates of obesity and alcohol use, and are less likely to get routine mammograms and clinical breast exams, possibly due to lack of insurance.
The nonprofit research group breastcancer.org reports that the average woman living in an Asian country eats more fresh vegetables, is closer to her ideal body weight, is more physically active and is less likely to drink significant amounts of alcohol, all of which make them less susceptible to the disease.
Dr. Karen Daily, director of Shands’ high-risk breast cancer clinic, said breast cancer is extremely common in the United States, particularly among overweight females.
“Every American woman has about a 12 percent lifetime risk, which translates into 1 in 8 women who can get it,” Daily said. “But, deaths have gone down. As mammogram screening has become more widely embraced, breast cancer has been diagnosed at earlier stages overall in the country. Many women do very well with early breast cancer and are cured, so that’s very satisfying.”
According to the American Cancer Society, death rates from breast cancer have decreased partly because of early detection and treatment, but also, perhaps, because of a reduction in hormone therapy in post-menopausal women.
Amy Roberts, a clinical social worker at the Robert Boissoneault Oncology Institute in Ocala, said people have many reasons for not seeking testing and treatment.
“What I’ve seen, recently, I believe, is a change from, say, 10 years ago, of people who are unemployed and don’t have health insurance,” Roberts said. “I have noticed an increase in families living with families. Many times, they delay going to doctors and getting treated because they’re overwhelmed.”
In her work as a patient navigator, Roberts said she has seen all types of cancer in people of all ages.
“Basically, I work with other community agencies and make myself available to help coordinate patient care,” she said. “Most referrals are people who had a lump and have not had a mammogram. We have several women, right now, that are not the usual. They’re in their late 30s and early 40s. To have that many younger women at the same time on treatment is unusual, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme. There are more people surviving breast cancer than in previous years.”
Roberts heads up a breast cancer support group that meets at the institute and another that meets at the TimberRidge complex west of the city. For information about the Ocala group, call 732-0277; for information about the TimberRidge group, call 527-0106.