The recent report on breast cancer by three UC Irvine researchers underlined the importance of scientific research, despite occasional scandals over falsified results that too easily can cast doubt on the work of scientists.
The UC Irvine study of nearly 6,000 Orange County women found that lumpectomy, which is the removal of the cancerous tumor, is as effective and safe a treatment of the disease as mastectomy, removal of the entire breast. The watchword in surgery is the less radical the operation, and the less that needs to be removed, the better. The results were especially helpful in reassuring nervous women who had undergone lumpectomies but had become worried by other research that, although confirming the operation was effective, later turned out to have been tainted.
UC Irvine is an appropriate site for the breast cancer study because, according to researchers, Orange County has the largest instance of the disease in the nation.
Hoda Anton-Culver, one of the authors of the study, established the UCI College of Medicine’s epidemiology program and in 1984 created a landmark program to study all kinds of cancer in the county. The registry records diagnoses and treatments and follows cancer patients until death; it worked well enough that state officials wisely used it as the model for a statewide reporting program. And the registry proved its worth again when it provided the data for the breast cancer study.
Anton-Culver said the high incidence of breast cancer in the county may be due to several factors. For one, the majority population is white, a grouping she said was more susceptible to the disease than Latinos or Asian Americans. Also, affluence has meant diets rich in fats and low in fiber, a risk factor. In addition, more women here are middle-class or professional, and tend to have children later or no children at all; that also seems to increase the likelihood of the disease. Anton-Culver also said that it may simply be that the disease is diagnosed more often here because women have access to health care and the insurance to pay for it.
Earlier this year, the National Cancer Institute gave the UCI researchers $2.3 million for a four-year study that will explore the role of genetics in breast cancer and how it ties in with environmental factors such as diet and hormones. Diagnoses of breast cancer are growing, and the latest estimates are that one in eight American women will suffer the disease. That underlines the importance of research.