Women's Ability to Cope With Cancer Studied

Times Staff Writer

Contrary to what surgeons who treat breast cancer may assume, women whose mental health is good before mastectomy seem to have greater-than-anticipated inner reserves to deal with breast loss, a new study concludes. Psychologically healthy women who lose breasts, the research team says, do experience short-term psychological trauma but have no more difficulty coping than women who have gallbladder operations or even simple biopsies.

The study was conducted at five major cancer centers across the country and described in an article in the journal Cancer. The principal author, Joan Bloom, is a UC Berkeley public health professor. The project analyzed 412 women treated for breast cancer, gallbladder disease and benign breast biopsy and a control group of disease-free women.

Takes a Horrible Toll

The research was motivated, Bloom said, by earlier studies that concluded mastectomy takes a horrible toll on women's mental health. The new study, which found no difference in women whose mental health was normal to begin with, concluded, she said, that earlier analyses had been flawed because they were based exclusively on women who sought psychiatric help after surgery. Such studies necessarily excluded women better able to cope, she said.

She said many surgeons in particular had seemed to assume that women were devastated by breast removal procedures. She said she was surprised at the finding that women with gallbladder surgery and biopsies were equally traumatized in the short term as women with breast removal. The major relevance of the new finding, she said, is that the female human organism "is stronger and has better coping strategies than we estimate."

In what is carefully labeled a hypothesis--but is virtually guaranteed to raise the hackles of pet lovers anyway--a major medical journal offers a theory that Kawasaki disease, a potentially deadly disorder striking children 5 and under, may be spread by cat-carried fleas. This follows earlier theories that Kawasaki may be spread during the process of rug shampooing--a notion that surfaced in Colorado and Scotland in 1982 and 1983.

Cat Scare Discounted

Lest pet-loving, rug-cleaning households be alarmed, a nationally known Los Angeles expert discounts both theories and even questions the decision by the Lancet to run the cat article. Once thought to be an obscure affliction confined primarily to Japan (where it was first identified), Kawasaki has reached other countries--particularly the U.S., where it claims an annual death rate as high as 10 to 15 of every 100,000 children aged 2 months to 5 years. The disease, said Dr. Masato Takahashi, of Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, runs in three-year cycles. The last one peaked here in 1986. The disease is most common from late December to February.

The causes of Kawasaki and the ways it spreads are not understood. Into this void emerged the article in Lancet by a London physician who theorized that fleas carried by house cats--which are more common in Japan than in the U.S.--are the culprit. The journal prominently displayed the word "Hypothesis" above the title of the one-page essay.

This didn't mollify Takahashi, who said the behavior of the virus thought to possibly be responsible for Kawasaki is incompatible with the new theory. "I think it's a shame such an article has to appear in Lancet," he said. "Should you get rid of your cat? No," he said. "You shouldn't be afraid to clean the rugs, either."

High Mileage Shoes

The soles of your running shoes may look fine--with not a hint of excessive wear--but the shoes may still require replacement, advises a podiatrist who suggests a mileage-based replacement program. The crucial part of a running shoe that wears out, explains a report in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, is its impact-absorbing inner material--not the sole. Attributing the advice to a podiatrist, the journal says people who run 25 miles a week or more should replace their shoes every three months and regular runners logging less than 25 miles a week should reshoe every four to six months.

Doctor's Lexicon

Exercise described as aerobic has become a major part of contemporary fitness culture, but the term itself is recent--its origination credited to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the Dallas physician who has played a major role in today's exercise-fitness boom. Cooper says aerobic derives from Greek roots meaning "living on air" or "utilizing oxygen." The concept is that the cardiovascular system is benefited by being strenuously taxed by exercise that enhances oxygen intake.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 11, 1987 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 9 Column 3 View Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction A missing divider headline in Tuesday's Health VIEW column may have lead readers to conclude that material on the psychological stress of mastectomy had been deleted. The column was complete as published, but a headline on View's front page should have separated the breast cancer item from one on Kawasaki disease. The Kawasaki disease item in Health VIEW began with the last line on Page 1.
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