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Gov.: Cancer fight also battles cultural norms

Dr. Melanie Royce, left, speaks at a panel discussion at the UNM Cancer Center. At right is Gov. Susana Martinez and Dr. Cheryl Willman is in the center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)
Dr. Melanie Royce, left, speaks at a panel discussion at the UNM Cancer Center. At right is Gov. Susana Martinez and Dr. Cheryl Willman is in the center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)
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The battle against breast cancer must include confronting cultural norms that discourage people from seeking medical care and routine examinations, Gov. Susana Martinez said Tuesday at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center.

“Even if it’s not part of your growing up that you go to the doctor regularly, we have to start being smarter about our bodies,” Martinez said during a panel discussion about breast cancer.

Martinez described her mother’s reluctance to visit a doctor in the weeks before she died from lung cancer at 71.

“Once she was past child bearing, it was a hassle to get her to go to the doctor,” Martinez said of her mother, Paula Martinez, who died in 2006, just four weeks after her diagnosis.

“Smoking contributed to her cancer,” Martinez said. “Late diagnosis contributed to her death.”

Martinez joined Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center, and four other medical professionals in a panel discussion to discuss breast cancer research, diagnosis and treatments.

Afterward, Martinez said cultural barriers too often prevent Hispanics from seeking regular examinations that could lead to the early diagnosis of breast cancer and other serious illnesses.

“All my aunts are that way,” she said. “They self-diagnose. They just don’t want to do the uncomfortable examinations.”

Martinez said her disabled sister did not receive her first mammogram until she came under Martinez’ care at age 50.

Mammograms remain the most important screening tool for discovering breast cancer early, said Dr. Melanie Royce, director of UNM Cancer Center’s breast cancer clinic and programs.

Doctors recommend women begin receiving annual mammograms at 40, or earlier if family history indicates high risk, she said.

The American Cancer Society estimates 1,360 New Mexico women are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 240 die each year.

A small number of men also die of breast cancer, so men should also receive regular breast examinations, Royce said.

Other measures that can reduce your risk of breast cancer include dieting and exercise, breast feeding, avoiding alcohol consumption and limiting the use of hormone therapy after menopause, Royce said.

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