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By Elisheva Averett Balser, November 1, 2009

About 100 women attended An Evening to Discuss Women’s Cancers,’ organized by presented by the Winnipeg Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) several months ago at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue.

Lori Santoro R.N. of Cancer Care Manitoba and the Breast Cancer Centre of Hope spoke  about breast cancer.

“Women should know that 80-90% of lumps found turn out to be benign, especially in younger women,” Santoro began.

If it’s not cancer, what is it?    Santoro explained that most commonly lumps that are not cancerous tend to be cysts which for the majority hold no risk.

Santoro also talked about  fibro-adenomas (benign tumors of the breast) which are painless solids that firm up into lumps in women of childbearing ages.  According to  Santoro, calcifications are usually not anything to worry about.  When the calcium builds up in the soft tissue it then hardens into lump type formations. 

Santoro noted that “on  mammograms calcifications appear as white circular dots.” Sometimes, problems can arise with these calcifications. If any appear on a mammogram, a women ought to consult  a general practitioner before  becoming overly worried. 

To reduce the risks of breast and other cancers. Santoro advised women to make sure that to wear a  properly fitted bra, exercise, eat healthy, reduce the amount of caffeine, chocolate and fat from your diet. As well, women should reducing the amount of alcohol to one drink per day, quit smoking and avoiding second hand smoke.

Santoro explained that there are two main types of breast cancer; Ductal Carcinoma and Lobular Carcinoma.  Ductal is when the cancer forms in the milk ducts, rather than Lobular when the cancer forms in the lobules (the glands which make the milk).

Treatments for Breast cancer include but are not limited to chemotherapy.

Santoro encouraged women to perform a self examination at least once a month, and to know the feel of  one’s own body so that if something abnormal arises the doctors can investigate. 

Mammograms are an integral part of breast cancer awareness, so much so that while the age for free referrals to be screened is 50+, there are petitions to lower the minimum age to 40.

Ovarian Cancer

Miriam Corne, a nurse educator who works for Cancer Care Manitoba discussed the key elements of ovarian cancer. 

For the most part there is no way to screen for ovarian cancer, and mostly by the time it is discovered the survival rate is very low, “Usually ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the late stage,” Corne stated.  However, there are ways to reduce the risk. 

In accordance with The National Ovarian Canver Association,  Corne said that taking “birth control pills for at least five years decreases the risk by 50%.  “Term pregnancies, and breast feeding,” can also help reduce the risk.  Some women go as far as having their ovaries removed to avoid the risk, but this mostly only happens with women who have a family history of ovarian cancer, or those who have been screened for certain genetic markers.

Symptoms  of ovarian cancer include swelling or bloating of the abdomen, pelvic discomfort or heaviness, back or abdominal pain, fatigue, gas/nausea/indigestion, change in bowels, frequent urinations, menstrual irregularities, and weight loss/gain.  Should any of these, abnormally occurring symptoms continue for more than three weeks then a trip to your doctor is suggested .  Should any of these, abnormally occurring symptoms continue for more than three weeks then a trip to your doctor is suggested to get a series of tests including the CA-125 blood test.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

Dr. Robyn Gertenstein OBGYN and HPV/Cervical Cancer educator, explained that HPV is not hereditary.  It is mostly contracted due to contraction of HPV, (the Human Papillomavirus) an STI (sexually transmitted infection). 

“The HPV Vaccine (Gardasil) is proven to be one of the best ways to prevent [certain strains of] the virus,” Gertenstein said as she championed the drug.   It is suggested that  young women  between aged 12-26  get the vaccine , but women who are older than 26 who are worried may consult their physicians about being prescribed the vaccine.  In Manitoba there is a program which goes into schools, and gives parents the option of vaccinating their children in the 6th grade for free.

There is no test for the HPV infection per say.  If contracted the symptoms are the effect of the virus, however regular pap tests are an excellent detection system, but they are not always failsafe. 

Risks Particular to Jewish Women

Ashkenazi women are at a higher risk of giving the genetic mutation that leads to Breast, Ovarian and related cancers.  Statistics show that 1 in 50 Ashkenazi women are a carrier for the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation which can increase the woman’s chances of developing cancer in their lifetime from 10-40%. 

There are special screenings that can tell a woman if she is a carrier, but women should know that just because they may or may not carry this mutation does not mean that they will or won’t contract cancer; they should not base their future cancer related decision based solely on this test. 

The event, which was held at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue was well attended, which close to 100 women in attendance.  Dr. Bernie Chodirker, was also present to answer any questions anyone may have had about genetics.

The staff on hand from Cancer Care Manitoba and NCJW, as well as the guest speakers made an evening which could have been anxiety provoking, enjoyable and at times even light hearted. 

For more information on any of the cancers discussed in this article please visit  

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