“It’s that time of year. The trees are orange and leaves make the grass look orange. Orange is a universal color of healing and we are here to empower ourselves and talk about an epidemic in the Washington area,” remarked Dr. Rachel Brem, Director of George Washington University Medical Center’s Breast Imaging and Intervention Center.
The Potomac home of Rebecca Mandir was host Sunday to 40 women gathered to hear an empowering story about breast cancer research from Dr. Brem. Mandir greeted guests with heartfelt words, “When I heard Rachel speak at another event, I knew I wanted all the women in my life to hear the same message.”
Brem, an internationally renowned radiologist, decided at an early age that she wanted to cure breast cancer and began her mission at Columbia University Medical School where she graduated with honors. Her openness, knowledge, compassion and encouragement are inspiring.
“Statistically, one in eight women will develop breast cancer,” noted Brem. She added that the technology for breast cancer detection is “so much better now than it was for our mothers. My hope is that it will be even better for our daughters than it is for ourselves. There are enormous unmet needs in our underserved community. Washington, D. C. has the largest death rate in our country from breast cancer.”
In an effort to reduce that rate, Brem directs GW’s outreach vehicle, a Mammovan that visits African-American, Asian and Latino communities in D.C. where women normally “fall between the cracks” due to lack of medical care and insurance. The van also visits corporate sites.
TWO YEARS AGO, Brem needed an expensive piece of equipment at GW that was on loan from the manufacturer. Brem explained to patient Sue Apple that she desperately needed to find funding for the MRI assisted biopsy device to be able to fully serve her patients. Apple answered Brem’s call by taking on the mission to generate monies needed for the device and established the Brem Foundation to Defeat Breast Cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. Sufficient funds were raised and the MRI was purchased. Apple said, “If you can be doing good by doing good then good repeats itself over and over.”
The MRI assisted biopsy device allows doctors to see what the cancer functions like, not just what it looks like. With MRI there is minimal invasion of the breast with a painless biopsy that can be done at lunch time with no stitches. 80 percent of MRI biopsies yield a diagnosis of benign. The hardest part for women diagnosed is waiting for results. Brem has minimized the wait for pathology results to 24 hours. She also designed a bed jacket for women to wear during screening to make the mammogram visit more comfortable. A new Biopsy Fund established by the Brem Foundation pays for breast biopsies of uninsured patients.
Brem says she is committed to having the best equipment, latest technology and the highest qualified physicians at GW adding, “It is critical for women to ask who is interpreting their breast films, to be sure the radiologist predominately reads mammography film, not elbows and knees, and to know if digital mammography is being used.”
Brem encourages that recent studies show a 60 percent reduction in the breast cancer death rate due to screening and a 40 percent reduction due to improved drugs for treatment. Overall, there is a 9 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths.
Doing good for the Brem Foundation can come in many forms. Local abstract artist, Ellen Gordon Gordon’s 56-by-66-inch oil painting, “Power of Orange” was purchased by best-selling author Tom Clancy and his wife, Alex, for $10,000. When the Clancys learned 100% of the proceeds of the painting’s sale would benefit the Brem Foundation to Defeat Breast Cancer, they lent their support with an additional $40,000 donation. Gordon says she chose to donate this piece of work because, “Orange is a universal color of healing. In color therapy, orange is used to raise energy and increase immunity. It is associated with the flow of energy through the entire being. The abstract images in the painting may suggest orange energy moving mountains.” The Clancys’ gift will purchase much needed breast cancer detection equipment to enhance diagnosis and expedite treatment protocol for Washington area women.
Brem was the principal investigator in the Missiles to Medicine program involving digital or computer-aided technology. Developed after the military model for guiding missiles, the technology aids radiologists examining breast films in determining what is friend or foe. She explains, “The digital technology is multi-factorial, improving not only the quality of the film, but the quality of interpretation.”
When asked about future goals for the Foundation, Brem gave the following list of “must haves” to provide optimum breast health care to Washington area women: Continuation of the Biopsy Fund; a Mammography Reporting System; Stereotactic Table; Research Coordinator; Stipend for a third Radiologist; Storefront Mammography Site; and an additional Mammovan, adding, “As I travel and speak, I hope to take this approach to other cities. This is an incredible passion of mine.”
To learn more about the Brem Foundation, visit www.bremfoundation.org.