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Oct 04, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Lori Draz

Dr. Denise Johnson Miller is the Director for Breast Surgery at Hackensack Meridian Health in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

Each October, we celebrate the brave warriors battling breast cancer. Their journeys and their support system of friends and family are leading the way to brighter future for all. Critical to that team of success is the work being done in research, and some of the nation’s most preeminent work is being done locally at the hospitals that are part of Hackensack Meridian Health. We had the opportunity to discuss clinical trials and the state of research with Dr. Denise Johnson Miller, the Director for Breast Surgery at Hackensack Meridian Health’s hospitals in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, where they have a lot going on. The women participating in trials are playing an important role in advancing medicine and finding cures.

Dr. Miller begins by saying that the work is all-encompassing. “Often, people think that clinical research involves testing new drugs and therapies, but actually, the research is three-pronged. One component is treatment pharmaceutical trials for both early- and late-stage patients. Another extremely important study is patients enrolled in biorepository trials. Here, the patient allows us to store a piece of breast cancer and normal breast tissue for future study on the genetic composition so we may understand better how genes affect the development of breast cancer in the future. The third type of trial being conducted allows us to analyze the geographic areas where certain cancers develop. The data gathered from these de-identified (meaning the patients’ identities are protected) studies (which have been approved by an Institutional Review Board, or IRB) provides critical information to see where pockets of cases emanate. Currently, there is an IRB-approved study that tracks women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and under. Another trial is following women with an aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Receptor Negative. These studies help to determine care and show how the instances relate to the communities, perhaps identifying ways to improve community outreach and future clinical trial development.” For example, research has shown that Jersey Shore University Medical Center treats a higher than average number of cases of breast cancer in women under age 40. Statistics in the Riverview and Bayshore areas are closer to national averages.

Additionally, there is an important high risk breast cancer risk program for women who are healthy but who are considered high risk due to family history. These women with a greater than 20% chance of developing the condition are tracked and monitored by breast surgeons at Bayshore, Riverview, Jersey Shore University, and Ocean Medical Centers. In addition, three full-time genetic counselors that are part of the Hackensack Meridian Health team in Monmouth and Ocean Counties provide consultation and testing of high risk women. That number of genetic counselors is unique to our area and a real benefit to research and prevention.

Women who are not considered at risk are encouraged to lend their support as volunteers and fundraisers. Dr. Johnson Miller joined the staff in April 2014. She remarks that, in that time, the evolution of detection, treatment, and research is moving very quickly, saying, “There is always so much to more do. Research is expensive and we receive some funding through grants, but we are always grateful for any and all donations to ongoing research.” She concludes by thanking the head of research, Dr. Arthur Topilow, and the entire team. “These individuals are among the best in the nation and they never forget the humanity of working with each patient. They are remarkable.”

There are a number of educational events scheduled for October to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some of the key ones are part of the Every Woman Counts educational series. These exciting programs will better prepare you to make informed choices about breast cancer prevention, overall breast health, and the most current treatments available. Light refreshments will be provided. Please register by calling 1-800-560-9990.

October 5 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. – Meridian Community Resource Center, Freehold Raceway Mall

October 17 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. – Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank, Cancer Community Room

October 30 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. – Ocean Medical Center, Brick, Community Room

For more information, visit www.hackensackmeridian.org or call 1-800-560-9990.