UNC Hospitals breast cancer treatment aids students, Orange County residents

At age 26, Qi Mo, a computer science doctoral student at UNC, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2010.

She considers herself lucky.

“Not lucky to get cancer, but to happen to be in this city and in this community when I got the diagnosis,” she said.

Mo, now 27, had chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The treatment center is located in an opportune spot — Orange County has one of the highest breast cancer incidences in the state.

According to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics, the most recent numbers of newly diagnosed female breast cancer show that cases in the county stood at 171.8 per 100,000 people from 2004 to 2008. The state average was 151.9 cases per 100,000.

Dr. Robert Millikan, a professor of epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the higher rate of breast cancer in Orange County might have to do with socioeconomic factors.

He said breast cancer tends to be found among women of higher socioeconomic status.

Being able to afford more regular screenings could be a reason why the number is higher within this group of women, he said.

“These women also delay child bearing, and that can be a factor in increased breast cancer risk,” Millikan said.

Dr. Diane Groff, the co-founder and co-director of the Get Real and Heel program for breast cancer patients, said that while Millikan’s theory could be true, no one knows for sure why some places have more breast cancer.

“Caucasian women have greater incidence (of breast cancer) but minorities have greater incidence of mortality, of dying from the disease,” Groff said. “There are other factors as well: genetics, nutrition, stress, lifestyle, environment.”

She said the cancer treatment center probably isn’t a factor because Duke also has a good facility but Durham County sees normal cancer rates.

Groff said age could also be a factor. Women are most likely to develop breast cancer after 45.

At 26, Mo said she was not in the at-risk age group for breast cancer, but found out after she felt a lump in her armpit. She was tested for the two well-known breast cancer genetic mutations and found she didn’t carry either of them.

“The result helped me make decisions about my treatment and also reassured me that none of my family members would need to get tested because of my diagnosis,” she said. “UNC Hospitals provided counseling before and after the test to make sure I understood the result and its implications.”

Besides her other treatments, Mo had “targeted therapy,” which consists of taking a drug that targets only the cancerous cells. She took her last dose Sept. 1.

“After one year of treatment I practically consider (the hospital) my second home. I feel I’m in very good hands,” Mo said.

Mo is now in Get Real and Heel, making the transition from being in treatment to living a normal life.

Patients attend exercise and recreational therapy sessions for five months while they get used to being out of treatment.

Karen Fuchs, a 52-year-old recent graduate of Get Real and Heel found that she had cancer during a yearly mammogram.

Like Mo, Fuchs said she’s thankful for Chapel Hill’s resources.

“Everyone is very supportive and caring about the journey that you’re on as a patient,” she said. “I felt very cared for. They were genuinely interested in me healing.”

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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