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Doctors On The Frontlines Of Breast Cancer; Weight Loss Camp Helps Kids; Tommy Thompson Discusses Daughter's Cancer; Video Game May Help Kids Lose Weight

Aired October 8, 2005 - 08:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news, south central Asia experienced a 6.2 aftershock this morning, following a major earthquake. The quake had a magnitude of 7.6. Hundreds are dead. And the government predicts the death toll could reach thousands. The quake's epicenter was nearly 60 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan and was felt as far away as India and Afghanistan. Stay with CNN for continuous updates on the update throughout the day.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During the past decade, fewer women have died from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Still many women of all ages are being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Up next, Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a closer look at breast cancer detection and prevention on HOUSECALL. Betty and I will be back at the top of the hour. HOUSECALL begins right now.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And today, we're talking about breast cancer.

Now while death rates are down from this disease, it is still the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women today. More than 200,000 women will get that news this year alone.

Elizabeth Cohen has a look at one of the doctors on the front lines of this battle.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Victoria Seewaldt grew up, she dreamed of helping others. A traumatic loss brought it into focus.

VICTORIA SEEWALDT, DIR., BREAST WELLNESS CLINIC, DUKE UNIV.: ... one of my best friends whose mother developed breast cancer. And in back in the '70s, nobody said the word breast. And certainly nobody said cancer. And nobody said those words together.

COHEN: When you decided to specialize in breast cancer, what was the reaction of your colleagues?

SEEWALDT: One of my professors later on said, "Why do you want to study this? You have a brain, why don't you use it?" Here's this cancer that so common, that affects so many women, but yet somehow scientifically, it wasn't considered to be important.

COHEN: That once largely ignored specialty has become breakthrough science. There have been great strides in detection, three-dimensional MRIs are now used with mammograms to detect cancers at their most microscopic. New classes of drugs called Aromatase inhibitors show promise in fighting recurrent cancers and can even help prevent breast cancer in high-risk patients.

Also, genetic profiles can help determine which types of tumors may respond to chemotherapy.


COHEN: Dr. Larry Norton is one of the nation's most renowned breast cancer specialists.

NORTON: Our understanding of the biology of cancers, what's really going to make a difference in the long run, not only in terms of developing better diagnostic tools, but also better means of risk assessment, who is susceptible to cancer and prevention.

I blew that up to get the architectural (INAUDIBLE.) See the calcium?


NORTON: We now can foresee the day when breast cancer may go away as a serious public health problem.

COHEN: Dr. Seewaldt's involved in a clinical trial to develop a new test to identify genes inside breast tissue, genes that could help predict whether a woman will develop cancer. She uses thin needles to extract the tissue.

I see a lot of needles here. How uncomfortable is this test?

She needed a human guinea pig and she chose herself.

SEEWALDT: We did a bit of practice.


COHEN: And how did it feel?

SEEWALDT: I really didn't feel very much of anything.

COHEN: And did you find anything?

SEEWALDT: Well, so we found out that I didn't have normal cells.

COHEN: Her own tests showed Dr. Seewaldt has about a three times higher than normal chance of getting breast cancer.

SEEWALDT: I mean, I was motivated before, but I'm really motivated now. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: All right, thanks, Elizabeth.

And just in the last few months, researchers revealed ways women can help prevent and survive breast cancer. This year, for example, a new study showed exercise, as little as an hour a week, can improve survival rates. In May, researchers found a low-fat diet reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 24 percent in the post- menopausal women that they studied. And recent studies have shown some high-risk women can benefit from taking the drugs Tamoxifen or Raloxifene to prevent certain breast cancers.

Here to bring us up to date on the latest in treatments and prevention is Dr. Marisa Weiss. She's a radiation oncologist, specializing in breast cancer. She's also the founder of

Thanks so much for joining us, doctor.

DR. MARISA WEISS., BREAST CANCER SPECIALIST: Thanks for having me. Thank you.

GUPTA: Listen, a lot of interest and focus on prevention right now. What do you as a doctor tell your high-risk patients or other patients that they should do to try and prevent breast cancer?

WEISS: To stay physically active, shoot for three to four hours a week, try to get your weight as close to your ideal body weight as possible. No smoking. And sometimes those medications, Tamoxifen, Raloxifene, some of the aromatase inhibitors can be helpful.

And for women who are at increased risk, high risk for breast cancer, maybe because of a breast cancer gene abnormality, those women may want to pursue more aggressive treatments like prophylactic, removal of the breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

GUPTA: You know, lots of specific questions coming in, lined up for you. Let's start with one from Carol in Indiana, who wants to know this. "What are the positives and negatives of digital versus traditional mammograms?"

And doctor, a new study might have confused some women as to which they should be getting. Digital or the other one? What do you say?

WEISS: Well, mammography is a picture of the breast. And it can be recorded on film, which is regular mammography. Or it can be recorded on a computer, which is the digital mammography.

The recent studies showed that for women who are 50 years old and younger, or for women who have really dense breast tissue, that the digital mammography may be better. And it's better because the images are clearer. You can zoom in on various areas that may be of concern without taking additional pictures. And also, they can be read by other radiologists maybe at a different location. And by the computer itself can do an extra check.

They are both - both can be done with very high quality. Digital mammography is only available in some places. It's becoming more and more available to women.

GUPTA: That's good advice. And so, digital mammography especially for women under the age 50, may be the best bet if you can get it at a hospital that's close to you.

We're talking to Dr. Marisa Weiss. Lots of good information on breast cancer. Stay where you are. More HOUSECALL coming up after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From the latest treatment, to how doctors stage your breast cancer, our expert answers your questions. And ...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really had to become comfortable with the word 'cancer'.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One woman's search for normality in the fight against breast cancer.

First, take our quiz. At what age should you start having a mammogram? Stay tuned for the answer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the break we asked, at what the age should you start having a mammogram? The answer? 40 years old. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms after 40. But if you're in a high-risk group, check with your doctor. You may need to start earlier.

GUPTA: And finding out you have cancer of any type is staggering, but tests to determine the type of breast cancer you have are getting better in allowing doctors to use more targeted treatments with better results.

And one of those doctors is Dr. Marisa Weiss. She's a breast cancer specialist, also co-author of the book called, "Living Beyond Breast Cancer."

And doctor, we're moving on to treatment now. We just talked about prevention. Dave in Ohio has this question. "My wife has breast cancer which metastasized to her liver. Doctors used radiofrequency ablation to destroy the tumor. With follow-up chemo she is in complete remission. What advances are there for breast cancer that has spread or metastasized?"

And first of all, doctor, maybe you can take everybody what radiofrequency ablation is, and who might be the best candidate for that? WEISS: Well, it's great that his wife is doing well. Radiofrequency ablation is a technique that gets rid of cancer cells in a specific spot. In this case, her liver.

And in chemotherapy, there are advances every single day. We have a whole list of medications that we can offer people right now in the clinic. And new discoveries are happening within chemotherapy and targeted therapies, where the cancer specifically is targeted. And we try to spare the normal tissue around. That gives us the most benefit with the fewest side effects.

GUPTA: OK, and let's keep going. Same topic now. Sally in Arizona wants to know this. "What information can you provide on breast cancer tumors that have negative hormone receptors?"

And doctor, first of all, what does that mean exactly? And how do you treat those cancers differently? A lot of women hear that they have negative hormone receptors. What does that mean?

WEISS: Well, breast cancer cells may have little receptors where they listen out for what estrogen and progesterone have to say. About two-thirds of breast cancers have receptors, either for estrogen or progesterone. And about a third don't.

The women without - whose cancers are without the hormone receptors do best with chemotherapy. The women who have -- whose cancers have hormone receptors, estrogen and progesterone receptors, or one or the other, do best with anti estrogen therapy, like the aromatase inhibitors or like Tamoxifen.

GUPTA: OK. We're talking with Dr. Marisa Weiss all about breast cancer. Coming up, taking a stand and fighting for your health.


TOMMY THOMPSON, FMR. HHS SECRETARY: You get hit, you know, almost in the stomach by the knowledge that your daughter is coming down with breast cancer. It's very difficult.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A very personal look at Tommy Thompson, as he talks about his daughter's diagnosis.

First, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse".


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic killed as many as 100 million people worldwide. And experts fear that a mounting influenza outbreak in Asia may cause a similar catastrophe. Research published in the journals "Science" and "Nature" reveals new details about the genetic structure of the 1918 strain. Scientists say genes in that strain have similarities to the avian flu. And researchers have found a vaccine that could may prevent cervical cancers caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV. The virus is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. and is a major cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine will go to the FDA for approval by the end of this year.

Christy Feig, CNN.



GUPTA: All right, we're back with HOUSECALL. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has first-hand knowledge of the toll breast cancer can take on a family. His mother-in-law died from it. His wife is a survivor and so is his daughter.

He sat down with our Paula Zahn and talked about the heart- stopping diagnosis of his daughter Tommi, then age 33.


TOMMY THOMPSON, FMR. HHS SECRETARY: She asked when she went through her annual physical to have a mammogram.

PAUL ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And she was young?

THOMPSON: And she was young. And the doctor said no, she didn't need it.

And she said well, I've got it in my family and I would like to have it. And they talked her out of it. And then so about a couple weeks later, I believe, or a month later, she was examining herself. And she found the lump in her breast. And she was quite concerned about it, but she said well, that's impossible. The doctors examined me and said there was nothing there a month ago or two weeks ago.

And so she went in to work. And she was thinking to herself that her job is to tell women when they find the lump to go get it examined. And she says, here I am, ignoring my own advice to people around Wisconsin.

So she made an appointment. And the doctor examined her again. And they took some tests. And they said nothing is wrong. You don't have cancer. And so, she was relieved. But they said just to be on the safe side, we'll take a biopsy. But we're absolutely certain you don't have breast cancer. And the biopsy came back and said it was positive. So it was - unreal, but ...

ZAHN: So if she had not pushed herself ...

THOMPSON: She had not pushed herself ...

ZAHN: She might not be alive today.


GUPTA: Wow, that's a really remarkable story. Tommi Thompson, who's the daughter of Tommy Thompson, they have the same name, has been cancer-free for more than a year now. And she's a great example of knowing your own body and pushing to get the care that you need.

Tommi found a lump, but there are other signs that you could be looking for as well, such as breast swelling, skin irritational redness. Also, inverted nipples or nipple pain could be a sign of breast cancer.

Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder of the educational Web site, is talking with us about breast cancer.

And doctor, you're someone who talks about better doctor-patient communication when it comes to women who suspect that they have breast cancer. You also just heard the story of Tommi Thompson.

What do you tell women to make sure they're getting the treatment that they need?

WEISS: Well, I think there's - everyone out there, there's only one of you. Your life is precious. It's a gift. And it's our job as women to protect and cherish our lives. And we bring our doctors on to help us do that.

If you feel like something's not right, something's changed, something's different, bring it to your doctor's attention. And make sure they take it seriously. And sometimes you have to push just to make sure that you evaluate it further.

A mammogram, an ultrasound, sometimes an MRI scan, a biopsy as needed. And it's important to share your family history with your doctors.

GUPTA: You know, we spend so much time doing things like looking for a home and doing all our real estate research, I'm always amazed that people don't spend that sort of diligence with their own bodies. Really good advice, Dr. Weiss. Thanks so much for being with us today. Really good advice on an important topic, breast cancer. Thanks for your time.

Also, coming up on HOUSECALL, one woman's story of living with breast cancer. Stay tuned for that.



KATHY HARBOR: It's like that this war you fought. And you are going to win.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fighting breast cancer and striving for a normal life.

Plus, struggling with obesity. We head to camp to check up on our weight loss duo.


GUPTA: Here at HOUSECALL, we're committed to doing what we can to help kids and teens get healthy. In that effort, we've been following two teens struggling with their weight and its consequences.

Elizabeth Cohen now with a trip to weight loss camp.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have your climbing buddy's life in your hands. So this is serious stuff.

COHEN (voice-over): A little too serious for Nathan Ruffin. Just two weeks ago, almost overwhelmed by homesickness, Nathan was on the verge of leaving camp. Despite all his pleas, his mother forced him to stay. And now, they want him to do this?

So what does all of this have to do with losing weight? Everything. Kids like Nathan got heavy in the first place because they used food as a crutch, as a coping mechanism. When the going gets tough, they eat.

Shawna Rubbeck, the other camper we're following this summer, has climbed her own mountain.

COHEN: Did you ever think about leaving?

SHAWNA RUBBECK, TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT: I thought about it all of the time. You know, like I wanted to leave, but I wouldn't - I didn't want to at the same time, because this is where I want to be. You know, I'm doing this for myself.

COHEN: She started out determined. But after about a week, Shawna began to miss her parents terribly.

If you were at home and having a really bad day, how would you deal with that really bad day? I would be bored and I would just go to the fridge and start eating.

COHEN: And now how do you deal with a really bad day?

RUBBECK: I talk to people about it, because we're all here for the same reason. And they know what you're going through.

COHEN: It's been tough, but talking instead of eating has paid off. In 14 days, Shawna's lost 13 pounds. 239.


COHEN: To 226 in two weeks. Wow! And how do you feel?

RUBBECK: I feel great because my pants are getting looser and my shirts are getting looser.

COHEN: Meanwhile, back at the base of the mountain, Nathan decides he can't make it to the top, but he does resolve to try to go up at least part of the way.

NATHAN: I know I can do it, I have to do it...

COHEN: But then.

NATHAN: I'm need to get down, really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the goal to get to?

COHEN: The camp director reminds him that he set a goal for himself and he's not even close. So Nathan, who never thought he could do it, climbs, and he climbs. He ends up do going past his original goal and making it to the top. Quite a journey for a young man whose only desire two weeks ago was to go back home.

NATHAN: Hey, I may do this again.

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, Campden, North Carolina.


GUPTA: Such a -- so much fun following those two. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Next weekend we're going to tell you how Shawna and Nathan measure up at the end of camp. But first, a new way that video games may get kids and adults off the couch and into shape.


GUPTA (voice-over): Video games, lots of hours on couches.


GUPTA: Teenage obesity. They all seem to go together. But what about a video game that might also be a weight loss aid? 17-year-old John Pachowski used to spend up to three hours a day playing video games alone in his room. Then he got hooked on a game called Dance, Dance Revolution or DDR.

JOHN PACHOWSKI, VIDEO GAME PLAYER: As I kept on playing, I got better. And also, I was getting to be a really good workout.

GUPTA: After plague the game for one to two hours every day for a year, he started to lose weight. Along with eating healthier, John eventually lost 70 pounds.

Dr. Richard Adler is a pediatrician who's been tracking active video games and their success in fighting obesity.

DR. RICHARD ADLER, PEDIATRICIAN: Increasing physical activity like this, has the potential for being absolutely tremendous in terms of its impact on children.

GUPTA: There are no official numbers on how many kids have lost weight with these games, but manufacturers are developing more interactive games involving skate boarding and fighting and more dancing. Maybe other kids will see some of John's success.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.



GUPTA: For more information on breast cancer, check out And if you're looking for alternatives, click onto This Web site will make it easier to find trials that might be a good fit for you.

Living with cancer, what does it really mean to do, as you try to maintain a normal life? Well, we followed one woman, who after being diagnosed with breast cancer, found her daily routine was part of that healing process.


KATHY HARBER, TEACHER: Are you ready? I shake, shake, shake, to shake my blues away.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was here in the classroom that Kathy Harber got the call.

K. HARBER: And I just put my phone up, took a deep breath, and just said, you know, you've got to get through these next few minutes with the kids. Don't fall apart. You can do this.

And so, I just put it in the back of my mind, knowing full well that I had a lot to deal with in the next few minutes, and got the kids out the door. Came back in the room and just lost it.

GUPTA: At the age of 43, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband Jerry was on the road when she broke the news to him.

JERRY HARBER, HUSBAND: And when she called me, it's like, oh, my gosh. How am I going to deal with this? How do I support her because I don't know what she's really going through?

GUPTA: Kathy and Jerry decided the only way they were going to get through this as a family was to be open with their three daughters.

K. HARBER: The one thing we learned up front was that we really had to become comfortable with the word 'cancer' and all of the terminology that came with it. And they were a part of it from the very beginning.

Hey, I'm on my way. I'm getting ready to make the turn right before the... GUPTA: Moving forward with life as normal was an important part of Kathy's therapy.

So while her 4-year-old student students are napping, Kathy leaving her classroom and goes to radiation therapy. And after her treatment, Kathy heads right back to work. .


K. HARBER: They sure do you love you a lot. And they can make you laugh. So even when you're feeling rotten, being in a classroom is not really such a bad place to be.

GUPTA: But even the toughest fighter recognizes that there are some days she has to see to her illness.

K. HARBER: You know, you have days where they're not good days, you don't feel good. You ache, you haven't slept, you don't have an appetite, you've lost weight. But it's like this journey that you're on. And you there's an end in sight. It's like this war that you've fought. And you are going win.


GUPTA: Well, Kathy, good luck in that war. Really to you. We're out of time for today, unfortunately. Make sure to tune in next week. We're talking about everything from Lance Armstrong to amazing physiology to the anatomy of our dreams. That's next weekend on HOUSECALL, 8:30 Eastern.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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