What’s behind the latest headlines on prevention, detection and treatment.
The headline: You can lower your risk for breast cancer, even if you have a family history.
The details: A recent study found that 20 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week, a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 and fewer than seven alcoholic drinks a week lowered breast cancer risk regardless of family history.
The take-home message: “Sometimes a family history leads a woman to think ‘This is something I can’t change,’” says study author Dr. Robert E. Gramling of the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. “But engaging in these three behaviors appears to have the same benefits for women with a family history of breast cancer as it does for women without a history.”
The headline: Many breast cancer patients who can benefit from radiation aren’t getting it.
The details: “We know that women with advanced breast cancer who get radiation are more likely to be alive 10 years after their diagnosis than women who don’t,” says Dr. Benjamin D. Smith of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. But Smith’s research found that 45 percent of women over age 66 with advanced breast cancer don’t undergo radiation. Whether docs aren’t suggesting it or women are passing on it is unclear.
The take-home message: Ask your doctor to spell out the treatments considered “standards of care” for your stage of cancer. Plus, visit websites for the American Cancer Society or National Cancer Institute to make sure you have all the facts.
The headline: Most women find their own breast cancers.
The details: In a recent study, 57 percent of breast cancer survivors reported that their tumors had been found by a detection method other than mammography. Twenty-five percent had noticed the tumor during a breast self-exam and 18 percent by accident. Forty-three percent said their cancers had been found by a mammogram.
The take-home message: Regular mammograms are the gold standard for detecting breast cancer. But “almost half of breast cancers are still found by women,” says study author Dr. Diana L. Miglioretti, of Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. Since a tumor can be missed or start to grow after you’ve gotten the all-clear from a radiologist, see your doctor if you notice anything suspicious.