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Breast Cancer: The Good, the Bad, the Confusing

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/28/2015
Last Updated: 04/28/2015

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The good news is that cases of breast cancer in the United States, which had been increasing for more than two decades, began dropping around the turn of the century and have continued to do so. It's thought that the main reason for this decrease is the decline in the use of hormone therapy after menopause.

But here's some potentially bad news: Breast cancer cases in the United States could rise by as much as 50 percent by 2030, according to some new government predictions. The researchers predict that by around 2030, 441,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease (this is alarmingly greater than the 283,000 diagnosed in 2011).

That's confusing. How, after a steady decrease, is that possible?

It's due to the growth of an aging population, researchers say. They also say the specific type of breast cancer that will increase is a type of tumor known as ER- positive, meaning that the tumors rely on estrogen to fuel their growth. About 70 percent of women with breast cancer have this type.

But the potential silver lining in this is that the rate of ER-negative breast cancer, usually the type that's tougher to treat, is expected to drop in the coming years.

There's also breaking news that's good for women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer: Removing your ovaries can reduce your risk of cancer death by 56 percent. And the protective effect of ovary removal—the most recent surgery performed on actress and director Angelina Jolie to reduce her cancer risk—is particularly strong in women with ER-negative breast cancer after age 50.

It's important to remember that breast cancer is not one single disease, but rather consists of different subtypes. Within those subtypes, responses to treatment, survival rates and incidence vary with age, race, ethnicity and a host of other factors.

And although researchers scramble for a cure, spending billions each year and constantly finding new and improved treatments, cancer is still very much a part of our world. So it's not surprising that the information is always changing and evolving.

What's clear is that with this new set of statistics comes the opportunity, once again, to be reminded that we must do everything in our power to be proactive about our health and with breast cancer prevention, especially those of us in the baby boomer demographic—those women whom this study was looking at.

Even if you are at high risk for breast cancer, everyday lifestyle changes have been shown to reduce your risk. Of course, some risk factors can't be changed—like your age, race or if you were treated as a child or young adult with radiation therapy to the chest. But others definitely can.

  • Don't smoke.
  • Limit all alcohol consumption. Drink no more than one drink per day.
  • Control your weight. Especially troublesome is weight gain after menopause.
  • Be physically active. As little as 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours per week of brisk walking can reduce your risk by 18 percent.
  • Limit the dose and duration of hormone therapy. Also try managing your symptoms with non-hormonal therapy.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish or other proteins low in saturated fats.
  • Be vigilant about screening and detection. Don't ignore any changes you notice in your breasts, like a new lump or changes in the skin.

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Comments

You're right. It can be confusing when it's reduced to a sound bite. Thanks for explaining.

I hate hearing the numbers will go up, and you have just reminded me I am due for my mammogram.

What a confusing mess. I hope they find a cure once and for all soon.

Could some of the changes in numbers be accounted for the rise in population, therefore the rise in diagnoses? But agree, this study says one thing, another says another.

Thanks for such an informative post! Since turning 40, I'm so much more aware of my health and activities than I ever was in the past. And being armed with quality information is a great start.

I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on cancer, and was totally floored by how much cancer treatment has changed over the past 100-120 years. Also, it's shocking how much science will totally say X is the best way to deal with cancer, 100%! And then 20 years later we learn it was all wrong.

This is such a confusion topic.

This is good information to know and pass along. Thanks for this important topic and what we can do.

Thanks for this important update Sheryl. I think one drink a day is even a lot by the way.

Thanks for guidance through this morass of information, Sheryl. It's so hard to balance enough precaution with too much of it. You're a calm, reasoned voice in the storm.

I have read the news regarding the research on this matter earlier. So they concluded that ovary removal can decrease the chance of getting breast cancer and it is 56%. But I foresee a medicine which could help women to recover completely from breast cancers and hope our scientists are brilliant enough to produce it. I had written a on this matter and I have pointed out the research as well.

Thank you, Sheryl. There is so much cancer in my family - and my sister just went through breast cancer - that it's always a constant worry. I'm doing everything on your list - and TRYING to lose the frickin' weight. :-)

Jane, I am keeping your sister in my thoughts. Sorry to hear that and hoping all will be okay.

I am a 60 year old woman. I have had numerous mammograms (in different states) since 2001. Back then a "dark area" was found on my right breast and a biopsy was done. The results were negative. Needless to say, I was "drilled" for a sample...the doctor literally numbed and drilled my breast for a sample. I was told I had fibrous cysts with calcification in both breasts and would probably continue to have them. The ordeal and the wait for results taxed me beyond normal endurance. I am not exaggerating and asked my doctor then if this was normal. I did not want to go through the same thing again so I did not have any follow up until Aug 2013. Once again, I endured excruciating pain, even when I took ibuprofen beforehand to ease the pain. Once again a dark area was spotted on the right and once again I had an ultrasound of both breasts but a biopsy on the right (this time the biopsy was quite painless...different type of procedure and I highly recommend the "vacuum method".) and it was negative. However, I told the surgeon my breasts were hurting even though the mammogram was weeks before the biopsy. He told me to mention it to my primary care doc.
I was told by my doctor I needed another mammogram in 3 months. Again another mammogram and ultrasound on both breasts but no follow up was necessary. I noticed my breasts were slightly bruised and hurt for several weeks after. Recently I had another mammogram (March). It was so painful I literally cried. I felt sorry for the tech because she had done me before and did her best not to hurt me...she tried not to compress too hard, but explained it had to be done. I told her the last time I had a mammogram I noticed I had more cysts (not cancer) and my breasts were even too tender for any touching. Again there were dark areas in both this time. Another ultrasound revealed nothing. I am not lying when I tell you I still to this day experience pain in my breasts. I told my doc...NO MORE...I am 60 now and if I felt anything out of the norm, I would let him know. Has anyone experienced this or similar to this?

Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.

It is sad to hear that 50 percent cases of breast cancer rise by 2030. It is necessary to know about the initial symptoms about breast cancer and medicines used for the treatment.

Thank for the real post which is informative and helps in the awareness about the breast cancer.

It's bad to hear that the percentage of breast cancer is going to increase,precautions needs to be taken for healthy life.

Thank you so much for commenting, it is lovely and really makes my day!

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