CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Rebecca Norris never worried about breast cancer. After all, there was no history of the disease in her family.

But during an annual checkup in October 2002, doctors saw a glitter-like image in her mammogram.

It prompted a biopsy, which confirmed the 44-year-old had breast cancer.

Since then, Norris has traveled to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for a mastectomy and a first reconstructive surgery; she soon is to return to Tripler for a second.

In other words, she’s on her way to being not a patient but a survivor.

Annual checkups and being aware of breast cancer were keys to that survival, Norris said.

“Early detection is very important,” she said. Usually, said doctors at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, the earlier a breast cancer is found and treated, the better the chance of survival.

“I was one of the patients who had no symptoms and showed no signs,” Norris said. “Mammograms are important” because the diagnostic X-rays “can pick it up in the early stages.”

To make more women aware of breast cancer and the importance of annual checkups, the hospital and Marine Corps Community Services are co-hosting a forum to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month — October — at the base.

The forum, at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Camp Foster Community Center, will offer information on the latest breast cancer research, prevention lifestyle strategies, dietary tips and recipes, and other topics.

The session is open to active-duty servicemembers, Department of Defense personnel and their families.

“This forum is designed to distribute information on the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer,” said Naval Hospital surgeon Lt. Cmdr. Clifford Smith.

Such information is vital, he said, because one in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Men also should attend, he said, adding that 1 percent of breast cancer patients are male.

Smith will discuss the latest technology and treatments.

“We’ve come full circle ... from a very disfiguring surgery to now just an isolated procedure to the cancer itself,” Smith said. Years ago, doctors relied mainly on mastectomies, or surgical removal of entire breasts, he said. More recently, they’ve turned to lumpectomies — removal of only affected areas — and even less invasive laser and other radiation treatments.

Smith said in addition to being aware of the value of mammograms, women need to know how to properly perform self-exams, which also can increase chances of early detection.

During the forum, Dr. David Itokazu, an Okinawa Chubu Hospital internist researching longevity among Okinawans, is to compare breast cancer rates in Okinawa and the United States.

“According to the American Cancer Society,” he said, the number of breast cancer deaths per 100,000 is 27.4 in the United States compared to 6.7 in Japan. “And Okinawa is 5.7 per 100,000,” Itokazu said. “I will discuss the importance of natural human estrogen and phytoestrogen — estrogen derived from plants — in promoting and preventing breast cancer among Okinawan women.”

Norris said for women, attending events such as the forum is important.

“It helps you understand and it makes you aware that the disease is serious and lots of people have it,” Norris said. “The more you know about it, the better your chances of early detection and survival.”

For more forum information, call the Naval Hospital Health Promotion Office at DSN 645-2620 or Marine Corps Community Services Fitness and Health Promotion Office at DSN 645-3910.

Some sobering statistics ...

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — According to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa and the American Cancer Society:

Breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in American women, surpassed only by skin cancer.Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American women, surpassed only by lung cancer.An estimated 211,300 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women and 1,300 in men in 2003.About 39,800 American women and 400 men will die from breast cancer in 2003.Just 5 percent to 10 percent of those who get breast cancer also have family members with breast cancer.Among U.S. military beneficiaries on Okinawa, one to two women are diagnosed with breast cancer every month.Almost 18,000 new cases of breast cancers are diagnosed in the military health system each year.— From staff reports

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