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Healthy Aging

The Latest Breast Cancer News

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 12/14/2011
Last Updated: 12/14/2011

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More than 230,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in our country in 2011. Though death rates are declining by 31 percent, incidence rates are not keeping pace, only declining by about 5 percent. And since less than 10 percent of the cases are genetic, clearly more needs to be learned about ways to prevent the disease.

Because I'm both a breast cancer survivor (just passed year 23!) and a health writer, many people come to me with questions or advice about breast cancer. And it's sometimes hard, really, to know what to say since despite my close relation to the disease, I'm NOT a doctor. Yet it's that combination of curiosity and professional obligation that keeps me busy keeping up with the latest (or trying to, anyway). I don't expect everyone to follow the news on this disease like I do; but being that we're all women (OK, I know some men are reading so here's my chance to say thanks for that!), I'm certain that you might be curious, too.

Though October and breast cancer awareness month have long gone, last week felt like it was October once again. The topic was all over the news after a report by a respected panel of science advisors, paid for by the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, was presented at a major cancer conference in Texas. In case you missed the latest, here's a round-up of what's been out there.

Some of it is not new and might not surprise you (like smoking being a probable cause); some of it might anger you, especially if you are an environmentalist and believe in chemical policy reform (like BPA evidence being "biologically plausible" but not conclusive); some of it might scare you (like two to three abdominal CT scans being the equivalent of the radiation atomic bomb survivors received).

Ways to lower our risk of breast cancer:

  • Avoid unnecessary or too much medical radiation (especially during childhood).
  • Don't take combination estrogen-progestin hormone therapy for menopause.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Don't smoke; if you do, then quit (it's possible, too, that secondhand smoke presents a risk).
  • Avoid excess weight after menopause (fat tissue is the body's main source of estrogen after menopause).

Other "possible" causes for increased risk include benzene and a few other chemicals in the workplace, breathing car fumes or pumping gas. The jury might still be out, but many groups firmly believe that there is a definitive connection. To me, that signals the wisdom in erring on the side of caution.

According to the panel of independent experts who advise the government, these are things we can worry less about:

  • Hair dye
  • Radiation from cell phones, microwaves and electronic gadgets

And then, there are things we should do more of, like increase physical activity.

You might be thinking, "I already know all this. It's nothing new!" I'm sorry. I wish there was more I could tell you that you probably don't already know. But at least The Institute of Medicine is recommending improving the tools for epidemiologic research and for testing of chemicals and other substances, as well as developing effective preventive interventions and improving communication about the risks.

Other news:

For the 45,000 women who are diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), the earliest form of breast cancer, a new genetic test might be effective in identifying those who are least likely to suffer a recurrence. It's unclear whether or not this type of cancer (or pre-cancer, as many people think it should be called) should even be treated; so far, many commonly opt for lumpectomy and/or radiation.

Increased consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates, especially starches, may boost the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Though researchers did not target the exact foods, refined carbs like white breads and white pasta, contain more starch than whole grains.

Women who receive at least three screening have a 49 percent lower risk of dying from the disease, says a new Dutch study.

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That's great news about the mammograms reducing risk of death. Very encouraging. And yet there are mixed recommendations about when people should get them.

I saw something on TV the other day about how eating more plain white mushrooms is helpful. Have you seen that study?

I haven't seen that study, at least not recently. There have been studies showing a possible relationship to a reduced risk of breast cancer, but those were done a few years back. Maybe this is old news that was reported on; or I wonder if there is something new? Time to check it out...

I recently read about this in the Los Angeles Times. Very interesting, but I wonder if there will be more research done!

I'm with NoPotCooking, it seems like early testing is a no-brainer and yet there seems to be some confusion on that. I was surprised that I'm paying a bill to my doctor my insurance refused for a regular test because it wasn't considered 'preventative.'So much information about women's heath to sift through--thanks for breaking it down!

Hmmm. Glad I refused a CAT scan yesterday. I tend to err on the side of caution, too, and am convinced estrogen-mimics are more dangerous that the IOM report seems to say. When in doubt, eat organic and get exercise, right? Still, I'm scratching my head. I don't like that much of the media coverage of the report has been dismissive of the role of synthetic chemicals as I believe they do play a role in the increased rates of cancer in modern society, way up from 40 years ago. Check out this editorial on the subject, which was published last week in Environmental Health News: .

Glad you refused it, too. It's just way to much radiation. I realize that sometimes CAT scans are absolutely necessary, but lots of people don't realize that they CAN say "no." And thanks for pointing out the link from Environmental Health News, Alexandra.

Love this research round up. Thank you!

I wish someone would blow up, frame and send your line about "avoid unnecessary medical radiation" to dentists and chiropractors. They are always pushing the x rays!

Yes! I feel like a broken record asking if the dental x-rays are really necessary every darn time.

With NoPotCooking on the confusion on best time to GET a mammogram. I've had X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs for various things over the years and am NOT keen on extra radiation.

Yes, No Pot, those mixed recommendations keep on happening, with no end in sight. I think women have to do what is best for them, based on their personal history and circumstances.

First, to respond to Roxanne, I believe it's the maitake mushroom that's beneficial.

Thanks for this. I'm happy to see that prevention is something that people are talking about. We have so much environmental chemical exposure that we really just can't escape (pesticides and insecticides in public places, for example); it's good to know that we can make a few changes at home that might make a difference. Sometimes it feels like a hopeless cause, though. All the work we do to stay healthy, but we still have to deal with outside exposures. Sigh.

Well, we do the best we can, I guess; but I agree, it is sad that we, ourselves, can do everything right but can't control what others around us do that might be harming us.

I can limit smoke and alcohol but haircolor?

I'm with you on the haircolor...tough to do without!

This is great information, thanks for the latest update.

Good to know that hair dye is less of a risk. I do need to work on the excess weight after menopause thing, though. Thanks for all the great info.

I also found to be helpful for questions and concerns, they also have a downloadable PDF to take to your doctor. It's crazy all the information out there on Breast Cancer and great to have websites like this out there to get the word out on Breast Cancer. On my daughters biological fathers family alone, she has 2 great aunts who are battling it and 1 great grandmother who passed away from breast cancer.

Thanks for posting the information, Jody.


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