Washington Women Have Highest Breast Cancer Diagnoses

Washington Women Have Highest Breast Cancer Diagnoses »Play Video
SEATTLE - By living here in our state, women are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer than in any other state in the country.

But, you are also more likely to survive!

Now, doctors are trying to find out why.

"The Puget Sound area is higher, on average, than the state of Washington," says Dr. David Beatty, Breast Specialist at Swedish Medical Hospital.

To try to find out why Washington has the highest rate of breast cancer in the country, we went to Seattle's Swedish Cancer Institute to talk to Dr. David Beatty and cancer survivor Julie Smith. <>P> "If you're gonna have breast cancer, this is the place to have it," says Julie Smith.

Julie's right. While Washington has the highest incidence of breast cancer in the country, Dr. Beatty says we also have the most breast cancer survivors.

Julie was diagnosed in March. Early detection, chemotherapy followed by a lumpectomy, radiation and 8 months later-- "I'm a survivor," says Julie.

When this mother of two was diagnosed, she was working on a brochure that was part of a marketing campaign to create breast cancer awareness.

"I thought, 'I have to be imagining this. It has to be a symptom of doing my job and getting too involved in the project,' " she said.

Neither Julie nor her doctor understand why Washington has such a high rate.

Some scientists are studying whether it could be a lack of Vitamin D - which could come from a lack of sunshine! Or, is it that we diagnose better than other states?

"The pathology here is good, the pathology across the nation is very good, I doubt that's an issue but that's a possibility," says Beatty.

Bottom line: researchers don't know yet.

Do we have more survivors because we treat breast cancer better?

"That's probably a little simplistic, I think we treat well, but that's overly simplistic," Dr. Beatty said.

Doctors do think our breast cancer survival rate is linked to good screening, which finds the cancer earlier and can make treatment more effective. For every 100,000 women in Washington, 146 were diagnosed with breast cancer. Nationwide, that number drops to 128.

Dr. Beatty thinks the low death rates in our state reflect how well educated women are here.