Melina Kanakaredes Prescribes Breast Cancer Awareness
Adele Slaughter, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
September 30, 2002 - As Dr. Sydney Hansen on Providence , Melina Kanakaredes
returned home to find meaning in life caring for those less fortunate. As a
wife, mother, and daughter she hopes all women will find providence when it
comes to breast cancer.
"October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month," says Kanakaredes. "I'm excited
to be the spokesperson for Lee National Denim Day this year because I just went
through the whole process with a good friend of mine -- Katina Antonopoulos
-- who found a lump in her breast."
For the sixth year, Lee Jeans is sponsoring the nationwide fundraiser to help
support breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment programs.
"We're asking everybody to wear jeans to work on October 4th and donate five
dollars to the cause," explains Kanakaredes. "It's basically a way to get companies,
organizations, and clubs to have fun and raise money. Every penny goes to the
Susan G. Komen Foundation, which started here in the United States as a grass
roots organization, and in the last two years they have opened offices all over
"I heard a scary statistic -- every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with
breast cancer," says Kanakaredes. "The good news is, because of new medical
procedures and organizations like Susan G. Komen, around 80% of women with breast
cancer are being cured or going into remission."
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), each year over 192,000 women
are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Katina, who was diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years ago, was one of
the lucky survivors.
"They were able to give her a lumpectomy and do the whole process of radiation
as opposed to chemotherapy, and now she's on a drug called tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
for the next five years," says Kanakaredes.
Just do it
Although a family history of breast cancer increases a woman's risk, most new
cases occur in patients with no family history.
"Katina had no history of breast cancer in her family," says Kanakaredes. "Doing
self-exams saved her life. And it's really easy. You just stick that little
card in the shower and do a self-exam once a month."
While lack of education and fear prevent many women from taking the necessary
actions to prevent this disease, nine out of ten women have benign breast conditions,
such as cysts.
But for those women whose conditions are not benign, doctors agree that three
important steps increase the chances of an early diagnosis. They include:
- performing monthly self breast exams
- having an annual breast exam by a doctor or nurse
- beginning regular mammograms at the age of
Although far more commonly mammograms detect breast tumors before they can
be felt, Katina's case was different.
"Self-exams basically saved Katina's life because the lump didn't show up on
her mammogram," says Kanakaredes. "It was one of those weird flukes where she
felt it before they could see it, and then of course they saw it with the sonogram,
but it was already two centimeters."
A sonogram, or ultrasound, is often done after a tumor is detected to see if
it is solid or hollow (a cyst), and sometimes to guide a needle biopsy.
Recent studies have begun to explore the connection between hormone production
and breast cancer.
"I believe that breast cancer in most people is a preventable disease and a
big part of it, but not the whole thing, is hormone balance," says Dr. Rebecca
Glaser, breast cancer surgeon, Dayton Alliance Cancer Center Ohio. "We know
that some estrogens are stimulatory to the breast tissue, like estradiol and
estrone. We also know that an estrogen like estriol is not stimulatory to the
breast tissue and actually is protective. Estriol is a natural hormone that
"The problem with breast cancer is that as it forms, it signals the immune system
to fight it and the immune system gets subverted and produces very high levels
of estrogen," says Dr. David Zava, Director ZRT Laboratory.
High levels of estrogen within the confines of the tumor lead to:
- Proliferation of cancer cells
- Inhibition of natural killer cells
- Stimulation of blood vessels which feed the tumor
Using saliva-testing, Zava found that women just diagnosed with breast cancer
often have a distinct hormone profile that is rare in the average population.
These women tend to have high estradiol, low progesterone, high testosterone,
with low DHEA and high night cortisol, both of which are hormones produced by
the adrenal glands.
Today physicians are increasingly prescribing natural hormones for their breast
cancer patients and seeing less recurrence and fewer new cases.
Natural hormones differ from synthetic hormones in that they are bio-identical
meaning they are made to be exact in structure and function to those the body
produces naturally. These may include:
- Estradiol and estriol cream or supplements
- Progesterone and testosterone cream
- DHEA supplements
- Cortisol supplements
"Natural progesterone in combination with natural estrogens plays a role in
preventing the biochemical steps that lead to the initiation of breast cancer,"
says Zava, a biochemist specializing in the endocrinology of cancer. "Studies
have shown that topical progesterone cream applied to breast tissue actually
slowed the growth of breast cells."
"Balancing hormones naturally is also a key to preventing depression, weight
gain, fluid retention, and heart disease," says Glaser. "It's not just about
"The problem with synthetic hormones is that they don't fit in all the locks
that natural progesterone does," says Zava. "It works in the uterus, preventing
the overgrowth of uterine lining, but it doesn't work in the brain or the cardiovascular
system, and actually increases the risk of breast cancer."
Currently, Zava and Glaser are running a study to look at hormonal imbalances
of women with breast cancer. They believe that restoring the balance between
estrogen and progesterone before surgery will have a positive effect on survival
"Although I have no breast cancer in my family, my husband's family has history
of breast cancer, and now that I have a little girl, I am thinking more seriously
about our future," says Kanakaredes.
As destiny would have it, Lee National Denim Day coincides with the October
4th premiere of Providence.
"It is a great thing to be a part of Lee National Denim Day, not only to raise
money, but to get the information out there to help women become aware of taking
their own health care seriously," says Kanakaredes. "And every penny of your
donation goes to help the foundation and some of the strongest people I have
ever met are the women who have survived this disease."
"Take care of yourself," concludes Kanakaredes. "Do whatever you can to take
care of yourself."
For more information about breast cancer, click here.
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Created: 10/30/2002  - Adele Slaughter and Stephen A. Shoop, M.