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Breast cancer survivors were howling mad yesterday after mob matron Victoria Gotti backtracked and admitted she didn't have breast cancer - despite saying she did in a publicity-generating interview out just a day before the season premiere of her TV show.

"If she would say this just as a stunt to get attention for her show, that is horrible," said Rose Smith, who has battled the disease for the past year and a half.

Splashed on the Daily News' front page Sunday was a banner headline blaring:


In the story, Gotti said: "the day I found out, the day I got my mammogram and the doctor told me I had breast cancer, it was mid-November."

"I lost 25 pounds . . . I was so exhausted, I could barely lift my arms. My producers were asking questions," said the mom, whose family, according to industry sources, netted an estimated $1 million for the three seasons of "Growing Up Gotti."

Gotti quickly backpedaled, saying in a TV interview Monday "what I had can be described as a scare."

She then told The Post she was actually treated for a pre-cancerous condition.

Gotti has told friends she suffers from ductal carcinoma in situ - a condition where cells lining the milk ducts turn cancerous. Although the condition is not considered harmful at that stage - it's called "stage zero" and 10-year survival rates are nearly 100 percent - it can spread and ultimately develop into full-blown breast cancer.

The condition is treated surgically, hormonally or through radiation therapy. In Gotti's case, she underwent surgery to remove the affected tissue.

Geri Barish, of the Long Island breast cancer group "1 in 9," said it was unthinkable for anyone to use cancer as a promotional tool.

"I would be sick. I would be ill. I'm a three-time survivor. I would hope to God it wasn't a publicity stunt," she said.

She noted that while pre-cancerous symptoms can lead to very serious conditions, they need to be differentiated from full-blown cancer.

"Pre-cancer is very different from having breast cancer and that needs to be clarified," she said.

Gotti claims in her defense that the Daily News is the real culprit - first for browbeating her into discussing her condition by threatening to run a story with or without her participation, and then overblowing the seriousness of her illness.

"There were some things that were over-exaggerated," she told ABC's "Good Morning America."

In addition to misreporting her cancer diagnosis, the News also said she has a law degree and once suffered a "heart attack." She says both are untrue.

The News would not answer questions about the accuracy of its reporting.

A spokeswoman for A&E, which airs the Gotti show, declined comment, but several sources at the network flatly denied allegations that the interview was part of a p.r. push for the show.

"She has really been sick," said one source. "It was not part of any p.r. plan."

Others who know Gotti said she has a bad habit of overblowing her ailments.

One source who has worked with Gotti in the past said she once tried to explain an apparent scar from a face lift as the remnants of brain surgery.

"I'm no doctor, but I can't imagine brain surgery leaves a scar on your chin," the source said.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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