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‘Purple Tea’ breast cancer symposium focuses on improved outcomes, new technologies

By Staff | Feb 28, 2024

More than 320 women attended the second annual Purple Tea breast cancer symposium, a forum where Southwest Florida women can learn about their individual risk factors, treatment options and encouraging statistics.

Held Feb. 15 at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, Purple Tea was a luncheon networking and educational event that featured a trio of distinguished presenters: Dr. Alan Brown, a board-certified radiation oncologist at Advocate Radiation Oncology; Dr. Natalia Spinelli, a board-certified breast surgical oncologist at Precision Healthcare Specialists; and Debra Wilson, vice president of oncology services at Lee Health. Nearly all attendees wore purple in a show of unity and solidarity in the fight against breast cancer.

Nationally, advocacy organizations estimate that doctors will diagnose about 300,000 new cases of breast cancer this year. Brown noted the five-year survival rate for breast cancer, if diagnosed and treated early, is 90-95%, a rate that has climbed over the years as research and technological innovations continue offering encouraging signs. One of those developments, Brown said, is emerging in Estero, where Southwest Florida Proton is building a state-of-the-art cancer care center that will be the first of its kind on Florida’s west coast. Protons have the unique ability to travel into a target and not beyond it, which causes less damage to surrounding tissue, thus reducing potential side effects and complications during and after cancer treatments.

“Once the proton gets to its target, it deposits the radiation, but there is really no exit dose beyond that,” Brown said of proton therapy. “It basically stops at the target and there is no exit dose whatsoever.”

Spinelli acknowledged the role of genetics, but noted there are many “modifiable risk factors” that contribute to all types of cancer. Examples include eating a healthy diet with ample vegetables, fruits and lean meats, as well as regular exercise, limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking.

“This is in our hands,” Spinelli said. “This is all stuff we can control.”

Spinelli and Wilson both noted a trend emerging in Southwest Florida with more younger women – those in their 30s and 40s – being diagnosed with breast cancer. Wilson also emphasized the impact of Lee Health Cancer Institute, the region’s only accredited cancer center, in providing a full spectrum of services to anyone in need. The institute partners with individual donors and philanthropic organizations to ensure cancer patients can afford life-saving treatments.

“Nobody has a savings account for cancer,” Wilson said.

Purple Tea was chaired by Gerri Ware. This year, the honorary chair was Diane Spears, the first Black woman to earn a nursing degree from Edison Community College (now Florida SouthWestern State College) who later became a registered nurse.

Purple Tea was generously sponsored by Advocate Radiation Oncology, Lee Health Cancer Institute, Florida Cancer Specialists, Fort Myers Alumnae of Delta Sigma Theta, Florida Weekly and IFoundMyDoctor.com/Florida Health Care News.

About Advocate Radiation Oncology

Advocate Radiation Oncology has a mission to provide compassionate health care expertise to cancer patients. The practice’s world-class, board-certified radiation oncologists and researchers trained at some of the nation’s top medical schools and access industry-leading technology to treat patients with breast, prostate, lung, brain, head and neck, rectal, liver, bone, cervical and other types of cancers. Advocate is a locally owned practice with eight cancer treatment centers across southern Florida. For more information, please visit AdvocateRO.com.