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Senior Health Week: Breast Cancer
Health News You Can Use •

Latest Breast Cancer News:

Diet, Weight Control May Lead to Longer Life After Breast Cancer: Researchers say women who exercise and eat plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables live longer after their diagnosis.

Recent Breast Cancer News:

Shorter Radiation Treatment Equally Effective After Lumpectomy: Researchers say a more convenient course of radiation therapy after breast lumpectomy may be as effective as the more common therapy.

Unpleasant Experience Deters Women From Having Mammogram: Researchers say pain while having a mammogram is the leading reason why women do not return for screening procedurre in the future.

Identical Twin of Breast Cancer Patient Is Also at High Risk: Researchers say women who have an identical twin with breast cancer are four times more likely than average to develop the disease.

Chinese Herbs Studied as Therapy for Breast Cancer Survivors: Researchers say the herbs may help alleviate the hot flashes experienced by some after treatment for breast cancer.

Hormone Replacement Trial Halted Because of Breast Cancer Risk: Researchers say the use of estrogen and progestin in combination is strongly linked to the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

Obese Women at Higher Risk of Dying From Breast Cancer: Researchers say approximately 30 percent of breast cancer deaths in postmenopausal women may be linked to their weight.

New Technique Reduces Hair Loss During Chemotherapy: Researchers say pulsed electrostatic fields (ETG) -- a non-invasive technique for stimulating hair follicles on the scalp -- can reduce hair loss for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Menopausal Breast Cancer Patients More Apt to Use Alternative Therapies: Researchers say soy, vitamin E, and herbal remedies are the most common alternative therapies used by breast cancer patients for relief of menopausal symptoms.

Link Between Herceptin and Cardiac Failure Identified: Researchers have identified the probable link between the breast cancer drug Herceptin and cardiac failure, a common side effect of the treatment.

Communication With Doctor Key to Treatment Choice for Seniors: Researchers report that discussions between physicians and older breast cancer patients have a direct influence on the therapy the patients receive.

Lifetime Weight Gain Ups Breast Cancer Risk for Postmenopausal Women: Researchers report that the weight a woman gains over the course of her life and her waist-hip ratio may be risk factors for developing postmenopausal breast cancer.

On-Site Mobile Mammography Seen as Good Way to Reach Seniors: At community sites where mammography was offered, 55 percent of the women opted to have the screening within three months.

"Safe" Radiation Doses May Lead to Complications Later in Life: Doses of radiation considered to be safe for the treatment of breast cancer may lead to complications later in life, according to Swedish researchers.

Diet Supplements With Genistein May Negate Tamoxifen: Researchers say isoflavone-enhanced dietary supplements containing genistein may counteract the tumor-fighting effects of tamoxifen, the anti-cancer drug used in women with estrogen-dependent breast cancer.

Ultrasound Could Reduce Breast Biopsies: Researchers say the number of breast biopsies might be reduced by as much as 28 percent if ultrasound was used to distinguish between benign and malignant breast lumps.

Radiation for Hodgkins Puts Women at Higher Risk of Breast Cancer: Women who had chest radiation when young are often not aware that the treatment put them at increased risk for developing breast cancer when they are older.

High Sex Hormone Levels Increase Risk for Older Women: Researchers say postmenopausal women with high levels of estrogen and testosterone are at twice the risk of developing breast cancer as women with low levels of the hormones.

Ultrasound Can "Feel" Breast Tissue to Find Tiny Tumors: Researchers say the new technique can find abnormalities that are deeper and smaller than the 1-centermeter lesions that doctors can detect by feel.

Breast Cancer Patients Want More Involvement in Treatment Decisions: Researchers say surgeons need to be more responsive to a breast cancer patient's need to be involved.

Birth Control Pill Increases Breast Cancer Risk Most for Older Women: Using birth control pills slightly increases a younger woman's risk of developing breast cancer, but more than doubles the risk if is she is taking it after the age of 45, according to researchers.

Anastrozole Far More Effective Than Tamoxifen in Cutting Breast Cancer Risk: Researchers reported new study results at the 3rd European Breast Cancer Conference showing that treatment with anastrozole is far more effective than tamoxifen in reducing the risk of new breast cancers in post-menopausal women.

PET Scans Better Predict Breast Cancer Recurrence: A new study suggests that PET scans can predict better than other types of imaging if breast cancer is likely to recur in a woman who has been treated for the disease.

Breast Cancer Primer:

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. The lifetime risk for developing breast cancer is now 1 in 8 women, a significant increase from the 1 in 20 risk just two decades ago. While the disease affects women of all races, it is more prevalent in non­Hispanic white women than in African-American, Hispanic, or Native­American women.

Despite the increasing incidence of breast cancer since 1940, the overall death rate (mortality rate) in American women has been declining in the l990s. Experts believe the recent overall decline in breast cancer death rates is partly the result of mammography screening, which rapidly increased in the United States during the 1980s, and resulted in a shift toward detection of breast cancer at earlier stages, when treatment can be most effective and survival rates are higher.

One of the most important risk factors for breast cancer is increasing age. Women older than age 50 account for almost 80 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of the disease
  • Early onset of menstruation and/or late menopause
  • Never having had a child, or a first full-term pregnancy after age 30
  • History of cancer or atypical changes on a breast biopsy
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation, particularly during puberty
  • Alcohol consumption

An increased risk for breast cancer also has been identified among women of higher socioeconomic status, married women, women living in urban versus rural areas, and women living in northern States. Researchers estimate that about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases may be hereditary, occurring in women whose family members have a substantially greater risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer. Recently, two breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA­1 and BRCA­2, have been discovered. Inheritance of abnormality in these genes accounts for about 25 percent of breast cancers in women younger than age 30.

Early detection of breast cancer is key to treatment and improved survival from the disease. Experts estimate that when a breast tumor is found in the earliest stage, the 5­year survival is as great as 95 percent. Currently, breast cancer can be detected (1) through x­ray mammography, (2) through a breast examination by a trained health professional, or (3) by the woman herself.

Important advances in basic and clinical research are contributing to the development of a spectrum of treatments for breast cancer patients. Standard treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormonal interventions. Improved molecular diagnostic techniques, which give more definitive staging information about a breast tumor, permit clinicians to tailor the treatment options to an individual patient's needs.

Another positive trend is that women are becoming more involved in their treatment decisions. Their choices may include some of the following treatments:

  • Modified or simple mastectomy, which removes only the breast tissue, or lumpectomy, which removes only the tumor. (Radical mastectomy, which removes the muscle underlying the breast in addition to breast tissue, was the standard treatment in the past.)
  • Lumpectomy and radiation instead of mastectomy, for treatment of early stage breast cancer. Studies have found the long­term survival rates of patients treated with lumpectomy plus radiation to be equivalent to those achieved with simple mastectomy or mastectomy plus radiotherapy in patients with early stage breast disease.
  • Adjuvant therapy--chemotherapy or hormonal therapy given in addition to surgery or radiation therapy--has been established as a treatment that improves both disease­free and overall survival of many breast cancer patients. A recent analysis of many research studies found that adjuvant therapies can decrease the likelihood of death in women with no regional lymph node metastasis.
  • Tamoxifen, a drug studied since 1975 as an adjuvant treatment after surgery, has been found to give women who have had breast cancer a 38 percent better chance of remaining disease­free for 5 years as compared with those who did not receive the medication.
  • A wider choice of chemotherapy regimens, even for advanced or recurrent cancer. Research has shown that combinations of drugs may be more effective than individual drugs used alone. New drugs include taxol, which is used to treat breast cancer that has recurred or progressed despite treatment; a new family of chemotherapeutic agents called anthrapyrazoles; and multi drug resistant drugs that counter the problem of cancer cells that become unresponsive to a variety of chemotherapeutic agents.
  • High-dose chemotherapy in combination with bone marrow transplantation for women with advanced cancer. Other techniques to permit high­dose chemotherapy include the administration of growth factors to increase the production of blood cells and experimental gene therapy to protect the bone marrow or enhance its function.
  • Monoclonal antibodies, such as her­2/ neu­oncogene, that target special antigens on the surface of the breast cancer cell to boost the immune system to fight cancer growth. Monoclonal antibodies may offer a way to treat microscopic amounts of breast cancer cells and to prevent the disease from recurring after surgery or radiation.
  • The use of a protein inhibitor, TIMP­2, may help stop the action of a cancer cell enzyme that breaks down tissues and enables cancer cells to metastasize.

Background information provided by: National Women's Health Information Center, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC






















































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