Breast Cancer Digest
Everyone knows Evita Peron of Argentina but not the secret that she died of breast cancer. Things are different now. Recent medical breakthroughs in breast cancer treatment are virtually erasing this scourge. 1. Survival rates are at an all-time high. The New England Journal of Medicine attributes this to improved treatments and regular mammograms. A study from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas reported that women whose breast cancer is found through mammograms have a 53% better survival rate compared to women whose cancer is found another way. “Nearly 98% of women with early-stage breast cancer today will survive,” wrote Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, in his Time column. 2. The effectiveness of Herceptin and aromatase inhibitors are proving very consistent for both early-stage and advanced breast cancers. Herceptin is a monoclonal antibody (an artificial solution of one antibody with millions of copies that destroys one specific target) that effectively neutralizes HER-2/neu – the protein that fuels malignant tumor growths in about 20% of breast cancer cases. This revolutionary study was initiated by Dr. Dennis Slamon, an American oncologist and director for clinical research at the Jonsson Cancer Center in the University of California Los Angeles; and Dr. Axel Ullrich, a German molecular biologist from the biotechnology firm Genentech Inc. of San Francisco. Herceptin was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in Sept. 1998. 3. Women at risk should avoid long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause. Taking estrogen and progestin for 5 years increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 40%. “Fear of breast cancer shouldn’t deter women from hormones for the short-term – 2 to 3 years – to alleviate menopause symptoms,” says Catherine Schairer of the U.S. National Cancer Institute. “But longer term raises more concerns.” “Since we know that estrogen fuels these tumors,” says Gupta, “women at risk for breast cancer should consider alternatives to hormone therapy.” Estrogen is estimated to be the cause of 2/3 of breast cancer cases. 4. Being overweight increases the risks of breast cancer recurrence. A 2006 Nurses’ Health Study reports that risks of death or recurrence for women who gained an average of 17 pounds increase by more thab 50%. Obese women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer,” according to Gupta. A healthy weight helps reduce circulating estrogen and lowers the odds of developing heart disease, many cancers, stroke, diabetes and other health problems,” says Dr. Carolyn M. Kaelin of Harvard Medical School and co-author of Living Through Breast Cancer (McGraw-Hill). 5. Women whose breast cancers are not triggered by estrogen benefit most from chemotherapy. This was the finding of an analysis of three randomized studies on chemotherapy published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 6. A groundbreaking ultrasound method called elasticity imaging can now determine whether a lump in the breast is benign or malignant. Here’s how it works: The scanner has two monitor scans. A radiologist would move the ultrasound piece over the suspected area. The first screen shows the regular ultrasound image. The second image is the elastogram. A malignant tumor will appear larger and darker as compared to the ultrasound image. This is because the body attempts to wall off a malignant tumor “so it builds up a fibrous area around the lesion,” explains Dr. Richard Barr, director of ultrasound breast imaging at Southwoods X-Ray and Open MRI in Boardman, Ohio and lead author of the 2006 study. Conversely, benign tumors appear smaller and whiter compared to the ultrasound image. Elasticity imaging is painless, convenient and results can be obtained immediately. 7. “More than 60 breast cancer drug trials are underway, with more potential treatments in the pipeline,” according to Dr. Arlan Fuller Jr., faculty member of Harvard Medical School.
Sources: Time, Newsweek, Reader's Digest