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‘Huge’ cancer problem in BK

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Cancer rates in Brooklyn among the highest in New York City; mortality rates from the disease are also high in the borough, according to physicians at one local medical center.

A trio of doctors from Maimonides Medical Center’s Cancer Center addressed the subject at the April meeting of the Bay Ridge Community Council (BRCC).

Speaking to the group gathered at Fort Hamilton High School, Shore Road and 85th Street, Dr. Patrick Borgen, director of the Brooklyn Breast Program at the Maimonides Cancer Center, said, “Cancer is an enormous problem in the United States, and a huge problem in Brooklyn.”

“As the largest borough, Brooklyn has the most cancer,” Borgen noted, “with over 10,000 people per year who will be told, You have cancer. Unfortunately, Brooklyn also has a high mortality rate. There’s not a lot of mass screening and early detection in Brooklyn, like a lot of the rest of the country has, so very often Brooklyn has cancers that are diagnosed at a later stage, which can be harder to treat.”

Indeed, approximately 3,800 Brooklyn residents die from the disease each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Cancer “remains the second leading cause of death in Southern Brooklyn,” according to Heather Anderson, director of health systems and collaborations for ACS.

In an email, Anderson said that “smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. One third of the expected cancer deaths in the U.S. are attributed to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity.”

“Lung cancer is the second largest killer of Americans with cancer, because it’s such a lethal disease unless you catch it early,” said Dr. Joseph LoCicero, the director of surgical oncology at Maimonides Cancer Center.

The trick to conquering this kind of cancer, said LoCicero, is to “get to all the cancer cells in the body.” This is made more likely by improved technology, he explained.

Breast cancer is, “The most common solid tumor in women,” said Borgen, and the “number two cause of cancer-related deaths, behind lung cancer.”

Every year, he said, there are 250,000 new cases of the disease across the country, going up steadily since the 1970s,” and 45,000 women nationwide “lose their life to breast cancer each year.”

In Brooklyn, approximately 2,100-2,200 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. “Brooklyn has an enormous breast cancer problem,” Borgen asserted. “There are many, many types of breast cancer. That makes it a very complicated disease to treat.”

Indeed, while people tend to think about cancer as a single affliction, it is “well over 100 different diseases,” said Dr. Samuel Kopel, medical director of hematology and oncology at the Maimonides Cancer Center.

Cancer patients benefit from a team approach, contended Kopel. “It’s usually necessary to have some person doing the procedure to make the biopsy, to make the diagnosis of cancer; a pathologist to tell you that it is cancer, a surgeon to remove it, consultations with chemotherapists, radiation doctors. You will need social service support, nutritional support. You will have to have your pain attended to.”

Multiple opinions are also beneficial, said Borgen. “Studies show that if you take a single doctor’s recommendation, and then take the same case to a team of five doctors, there will be a change in management about 20 percent of the time,” he told the group.

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