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Health & Wellness

Mammography Does Not Guarantee Fewer Breast Cancer Deaths

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Women who often undergo mammography may be exposed to more harm than good, according to a new study.

Mammography remains as the most popular method of breast cancer screening, and women who undergo the procedure heighten their chances of detecting the disease early on. However, a team of researchers from Harvard University discovered that an increase in the number of breast cancer screening procedures didn’t result to reduction in fatalities associated with breast cancer.

The study involved analysis of data of at least 16 million females 40 years old and above from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry across 547 U.S. counties. More than 53,000 women were found with breast cancer, and were monitored for the next 10 years.

Results of the study showed that a 10-percent increase in the number of mammogram procedures was linked to a 16-percent rise in identification of breast cancer. But despite having more breast cancer screening, deaths due to the disease did not decrease. Meanwhile, the rise in screening procedures resulted to a significant 25 percent increase in detection of small tumors that led to breast cancer. “Across US counties, the data show that the extent of screening mammography is indeed associated with an increased incidence of small cancers but not with decreased incidence of larger cancers or significant differences in mortality,” said study co-author Richard Wilson in a news release.

The research team explained that having too many screenings may have affected the relationship between breast cancer detection and mortality rate. “The simplest explanation is widespread overdiagnosis, which increases the incidence of small cancers without changing mortality, and therefore matches every feature of the observed data,” Wilson added.

More details about the study were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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Health & Wellness

Breast Cancer Dilemma: Patients Oblivious About Their Health Condition

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Understanding an illness or disease can raise the likelihood of treating it. Unfortunately, most women with breast cancer do not have enough knowledge about their condition.
According to a study conducted by a team of researchers led by Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Rachel Freedman, as high as 80% of breast cancer patients are not aware about the details of their cancer status. This was determined through a survey on 500 females who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Generic-Article-BannerInformation related to breast cancer — such as the stage of the cancer, its grade and subtype — may prove beneficial to the patients if they knew about them. Survey results showed that 32 to 82 percent of the patients knew information about the tumors growing in them, but the percentage of women who could correctly specify the details of their condition registered as low as 20%.

The research team believes that lack of understanding of a breast cancer patient about her condition may lead her to confusion or uncertainty about the treatments she is receiving. “Improving patients’ understanding about why a particular treatment is important for her individual situation may lead to more informed decisions and better adherence to treatment,” said Freedman in a news release.

Breast cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of fatalities in women at about 3% mortality rate.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

DNA Helps to Protect Some Hispanic Women from Breast Cancer

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New research has found that some Hispanic women are less prone to breast cancer thanks to their DNA. mammogram showing breast cancer

Compared with women of European or African-American descent, fewer Hispanic women develop breast cancer and fewer of them die from it, medical statistics show, and an international team led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recently said they now know the reason why this is.

A tiny difference in the DNA of certain women makes Latinas who inherit it about 40% less likely to develop breast cancer, medical geneticist Laura Fejerman and her colleagues reported in Nature Communications. And, if women have inherited the variation from both sides of their family, they are 80% less likely to get breast cancer.

“It is strongly protective,” said cancer specialist Elad Ziv at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, who helped conduct the study funded by the National Cancer Institute. “We really need to do more experiments to nail it down and understand what it is doing.”

Women who carry the genetic variant have breast tissue that appears less dense on mammograms. High-density breast tissue is a known risk factor for breast cancer.

The finding may lead to more effective genetic testing for women at risk, by helping to determine who most needs to take preventative measures.

Health & Wellness

Breast Cancer Awareness Month This October

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The month of October has many things in store. Aside from being Depression Awareness Month and Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The annual campaign aims to raise awareness of the disease that has been haunting women — and even men.

breast cancer awareness month pink octoberThe campaign aims at not only acquiring knowledge about breast cancer, but also making sure that people take necessary precautions in order to avoid the disease. Early detection is one of the best techniques for breast cancer prevention. This step includes breast self-exam, clinical breast exam, and mammogram. The campaign is also recommending an Early Detection Plan by proactively reminding yourself to undergo breast examinations.

To inject some fun in support of the campaign, Nestle Fitness promoted its Pink Ribbon initiative by launching a short ad about how aware people are about breasts. A woman placed a hidden camera on her pink bra to see how many people look at her breasts on a given day. The video aims to highlight the fact that if other people are checking your breasts out, you should also check them regularly.

For more information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.

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Health & Wellness

Study finds majority of women with breast cancer don’t get enough exercise

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Only about 35% of women with breast cancer get enough physical exercise, a new study finds. breast cancer

Brionna Hair, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues, analyzed pre- and post-diagnosis physical activity levels in 1,735 women ages 20 to 74 diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from 2008 to 2011 in North Carolina.

The study, published online in the journal Cancer, found that just 35% of breast cancer survivors met current physical activity guidelines post-diagnosis. The current guidelines advocate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.

“Medical care providers should discuss the role physical activity plays in improving breast cancer outcomes with their patients, and strategies that may be successful in increasing physical activity among breast cancer patients need to be comprehensively evaluated and implemented,” Hair said in a statement.

Early Disease Detection

15 Year Old Develops Software to Identify Cancer-Causing Gene Mutations

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Nathan Han, a 15-year-old from Boston, has won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for creating a computer program that can predict how harmful gene mutations related to cancer might be. 

Photo courtsy of fastcoexist.com

Photo courtsy of fastcoexist.com

Han says that he’s been fascinated with bioinformatics for awhile and when a close friend’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he started thinking about possible projects.

He eventually settled on his winning software, which evaluates mutations in the BRCA1 gene–a gene commonly associated with ovarian and breast cancer–to see how harmful they are.

Han programmed his software to differentiate between disease-related mutations and harmless mutations using data from public databases.

“I chose to focus on BRCA1 in particular for practicality. It’s one of the most studied genes in the human genome,” he says.

According to Han, his program has an 81% accuracy rate in identifying cancer-causing mutations. Existing algorithms have an accuracy rate of only around 40%.

His software could one day be customized to evaluate other genes and diseases.

“Down the road, as accuracy improves, I can imagine using this sort of process for personalized genomic analysis,” Han says.

For winning the Intel science fair, Han receives $75,000, which he will put toward college.

Health & Wellness

Double Mastectomy: Too Severe For Breast Cancer Prevention?

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Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy flooded news feeds in May of last year. Her decision to undergo double breast removal was based on test results that showed she was carrying a mutated gene believed to be a breast cancer precursor.

breast-cancerThis year, a study by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center revealed that about 70 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer choose to have both of their breasts removed as a preventive measure.

Study lead author and associate professor Sarah Hawley said that the breast cancer issue has developed a sense of paranoia in women. “Women appear to be using worry over cancer recurrence to choose contralateral prophylactic mastectomy… This does not make sense, because having a non-affected breast removed will not reduce the risk of recurrence in the affected breast,” said Hawley in a news release.

According to the study, out of more than 230,000 women diagnosed with cancer on one of the breasts, only 10 percent will develop cancer in the unaffected breast. What’s surprising is that in the study group composed of almost 1,500 females, 75 percent expressed worry that the cancer will recur in the other breast.

Hawley stressed the importance of making a sound decision before having both breasts removed. “For women who do not have a strong family history or a genetic finding, we would argue it’s probably not appropriate to get the unaffected breast removed,” she added.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Invasive Breast Cancer Patients Need HER2 Tests For Better Treatment

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Two medical expert organizations recently issued an updated recommendation for all patients diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer to undergo tests for detection of a particular cancer-progressing protein.

breast cancer screeningThe College of American Pathologists (CAP) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) joined forces to emphasize the impact of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 or HER2 protein, and how its amplification in the body can lead to a heightened development of breast cancer. Dr. Antonio Wolff of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and co-chair of the joint panel pressed on this matter. “HER2 is among the first targets in breast cancer that helped define a very specific subtype of breast cancer that affects about 30,000 to 40,000 patients each year just in the U.S.,” said Wolff in a news item.

HER2 is a protein present in the human body in the form of the ERBB2 gene, which, when found in the body at high levels, could result in tumors that grow faster and are more invasive.

Dr. Elizabeth Hammond, who co-chairs the panel with Dr. Wolff and works as pathology professor at Salt Lake City’s University of Utah School of Medicine, shared the importance of updating the guidelines for breast cancer testing and treatment. “We want to make sure that a woman living in a rural area has the same opportunity for testing as a woman living near a major medical center,” Hammond said.

Under the new guidelines, recommendations include the following: HER2 testing for women with invasive and metastatic breast cancer, focused treatment on HER2-positive cases, and prohibition of HER2-negative patients from taking HER2-focused medication.

Health & Wellness

Second Opinion Reveals False Cancer Diagnosis of Woman Under Chemotherapy

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It’s probably the best news a person can get from a doctor, but at the same time the worst possible news.

Herlinda-Garcia

Photo credit: nuttynewstoday.com

Herlinda Garcia, a 54-year-old woman from Victoria, TX, underwent chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She battled months of chemotherapy, resulting in physical side effects that form part of the treatment.

Seven months after she started the treatment, a second opinion revealed a very startling discovery; she never had cancer in the first place.

The false diagnosis was given to her by Dr. Ahmad Qadri, after she underwent a surgical removal of a benign tumor from her left breast tissue. Garcia recalled the emotional and mental battle that she had to deal with. “When you’re told you have stage four terminal cancer, that’s it,” she said in a news item.

The chemotherapy treatments rendered her weak, with her physical and mental health slowly degrading. “Everything was swollen. I lost my eyebrows, my eyelashes,” Garcia added. It was then that depression grew inside her, prompting her to give away her possessions and even writing a bucket list for her to accomplish.

She submitted herself to Citizens Medical Center for anxiety treatment. As the doctors scanned her body, one thing was certain: cancer was never inside her. She sought a second opinion from Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which confirmed the findings of Citizens Medical Center.

Garcia had mixed feelings about the issue. “I was happy, but at the same time, I had that anger,” she said. After all, the repercussions of the wrong diagnosis were already done. Unfortunately, the erring doctor (Dr. Qadri) already passed away. To pay for physical and mental damages, a jury in Victoria Court awarded Garcia $367,500.

Early Disease Detection

Easton Hospital Offers 3D Mammography: Better Diagnosis, Less Pain

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A small town in Pennsylvania has recently been given a medical equipment upgrade.

In their press release, Easton Hospital Health and Wellness Center reported that it is now home to the latest technology in breast cancer detection: 3D mammography. This breakthrough technology allows for a three-dimensional examination of the breast tissue for a closer scrutiny. The procedure improves the assessment of the breast structure by distinct separation of overlapping tissues.

Also called breast tomosynthesis, this novel technique reduces the physical pain during scanning. Unlike conventional mammography wherein the breast tissue is subjected to pressure, this technique uses no pressure. This development alone has sparked interest in women who are hesitant to undergo mammography because of the pain. The 3D mammography system used in Easton is called Selenia Dimensions breast tomosynthesis, which is ergonomically designed for better patient comfort.

But more than the benefits of a pain-free procedure, the greatest advantage of 3D imaging is the clarity of the images. Easton’s 3D Mammography system generates crisp imaging details, thereby giving radiologists a higher confidence level in diagnosis. Results from a 3D mammography system are expected to be far better than the conventional method.

The procedure involves scanning the breast in several angles. The machine then takes 1-mm scans of the tissue, and then reconstructs the images to form a three-dimensional image of the breast. From the digital image, radiologists can then examine the breast for abnormalities or signs of breast cancer.

Easton Hospital Health and Wellness Center is located in Forks Township, Northampton County, PA.