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Heinz's cancer prognosis 'very good'

Luis Fábregas
| Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009

Teresa Heinz will remain active in her philanthropic work despite announcing she's being treated for breast cancer, the president of The Heinz Family Philanthropies said Wednesday.

"Her prognosis is very good," said Jeffrey R. Lewis, president of the foundation whose board Heinz chairs. "Nothing will stop her from continuing the work she's doing. Teresa has always been -- and will continue to be -- a fighter."

Heinz, 71, heiress to Heinz Co. fortune, said she learned in late September that she had Stage 1 breast cancer after having an annual mammogram. In early October, she underwent lumpectomies on both breasts -- surgical procedures to remove tumors.

The tests initially found cancer in her left breast, but doctors later found a malignant growth on her right breast. In November, Heinz had another pair of lumpectomies performed at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Heinz, who is married to Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, will undergo radiation next month. Heinz said the five days of targeted radiation should improve her odds of successful treatment to 95 percent.

In Stage 1 cancer, the cells have not spread beyond the breast or into lymph nodes, said Dr. Donald Keenan, a surgeon at West Penn Allegheny Health System. He is not involved in Heinz's treatment.

"At this stage of the disease, the majority of women can be cured," he said.

Compared with metastatic breast cancer -- which is incurable and has lower survival odds -- early-stage cancers can be treated before they have spread to other organs, Keenan said, emphasizing the importance of routine screenings such as mammograms.

Although Heinz has undergone required additional lumpectomies, it is not a sign for grave concern, Keenan said, noting that up to half the women who have lumpectomies return for second procedures.

Her case provides an opportunity to educate women about breast cancer, so they will not unnecessarily panic about their outlook, he said.

"Sometimes it takes more than one operation, and that doesn't mean the cancer is horrible," Keenan said. "It just means that it wasn't cleared the first time."

Heinz said she is undecided about follow-up treatment such as chemotherapy -- which could bump her survival odds to 99 percent -- because of her age and potential side effects.

"The benefit of finding it early means there's less likelihood a woman may need chemotherapy," Keenan said.

Some women choose hormone therapy, which can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery, he said.

Doug Root, communications director for The Heinz Endowments, said Heinz attended the foundation's board meetings in late October.

"She was actively getting treatment in the fall and, shortly after that, coming for the meetings," Root said.

Heinz has been outspoken about women's health issues for many years and will continue to be an advocate for breast-cancer issues and early detection, said Lewis of The Heinz Family Philanthropies.

"Her work in health care will continue for years to come, and her advocacy on behalf of women will only grow."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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