Breast Cancer: Prevention is better than a cure, part 2

DiscovHER continues its conversation with Dr. Susan Love about her research, her achievements, and encouraging women in science.

The collateral damage of cancer therapies is not known to many people. Why do you think it's so important to educate people about the consequences that follow treatment, and could it incentivize researchers to focus on the preventative rather than curative research?

My own experience with cancer 5 years ago was a wake-up moment for me. Like most doctors, I had not been paying much attention to the consequences of treatment that can affect your life forever. We are not trained that way. We are trained to fix things.

Collateral damage is not the same as side effects. Side effects are throwing up when you get chemo, but once it’s over, it’s gone. Collateral damage, on the other hand, is forever. It is permanent neuropathy or chemobrain. Since we are more successful at saving people’s lives than we were before, thanks to scientific advances, we need to pay more attention to the long-term consequences of treatment to ensure not just an extension of life, but a good quality of life.

Among your many achievements, which one means the most to you?

I am most proud of my role as an explainer. My book, Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, which is in its 6th edition, first came out in 1990 at a time when there was no internet. Patients needed someone to explain what and why new practices were being carried out, and doctors weren’t doing it. Even now, with the internet, there is still a need for this, since websites often don’t explain in detail. At Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, we develop our educational materials to reflect our experience talking with breast cancer patients, survivors and their families. This has shown that communicating in plain language, using real-world comparisons, makes complicated and often frightening topics easier to digest.

According to you, what initiatives should be taken to better support and encourage women in science?

I think it has certainly gotten a lot better for women in medical science and medicine. I became a breast surgeon not because of some personal experience, but because as a newly trained surgeon in the early 80s, nobody offered me a job, and the only patients they sent me were women with breast cancer.

There are so many areas in women’s health that have not been explored or well-studied because they do not occur to men. We need women because of women’s unique perspectives on both women’s issues as well as men’s.

The most amazing and interesting research is being done by women to understand breast cancer. For instance, there’s a biomedical engineer who started researching the mechanics of breast feeding. Nobody had ever done this before, but because she had a kid and had an idea about it, she went ahead and looked into it.

Having more women in science will change the way we think about things and the way we solve problems.

Are you interested in Dr. Love’s work? Find out more on the foundation’s website, and let us know what you think @4womeninscience.

For Women in Science

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