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Breast Health & Disease Archive

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Breast cancer: When and how often to get screened

Updated October 1, 2013

How do you make sense of conflicting mammography guidelines?

How often do you need to get a mammogram, and at what age should you stop having this test? If you follow the American Cancer Society's guidelines, you'll have yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as you're in good health. The National Cancer Institute recommends mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40. But in 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)—a panel of health experts that reviews screening tests like mammography—released new recommendations, which advise starting mammograms only at age 50, then having the test every other year and stopping at age 74.

Experts add second drug to breast cancer prevention regimen

Updated October 1, 2013

New guidelines advise postmenopausal women at increased risk for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer to talk to their doctor about taking exemestane (Aromasin) as part of a preventive strategy.

Real-time digital mammograms more accurate than computed radiography

Updated August 1, 2013

Computed radiography (CR), a type of mammogram that records breast images on a cassette and then transfers them to a computer, is not as effective at picking up breast cancer as digital direct radiography (DR), a study finds.

Mammogram rates steady, even with new guidelines

Updated July 1, 2013

Despite recent recommendations against annual breast cancer screenings, women continue to have mammograms each year. Researchers suggest this is because providers disagree with the recommendations.

Research We're Watching: Radiation for breast cancer linked to heart problems

Updated June 1, 2013

Research We're Watching

Radiation for breast cancer linked to heart problems

Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for breast cancer, but concerns have been raised that the radiation exposure women receive during this therapy might put them at greater risk for heart disease, especially because the radiation is delivered so close to the heart.

Researchers in Europe investigated this connection in more than 2,000 women who underwent radiation treatment for breast cancer between 1958 and 2001. The study, which was published March 14 in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that women's risk of ischemic heart disease (caused by reduced blood flow to the heart) began rising five years after their radiation treatment, and it continued for 20 or more years after this therapy. The more radiation the women received, the greater their heart risks—especially if they had radiation to the left breast, which is closest to the heart. The authors say today's radiation treatments deliver lower doses than in the past, and because their study included women treated more than 10 years ago, they can't know for sure how more current treatments might affect women's heart disease risk. Regardless, Dr. ­Javid Moslehi of Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute stressed in an accompanying editorial that it's important for cancer and heart doctors to work together when caring for women who receive radiation for breast cancer.

Angelina Jolie’s prophylactic mastectomy a difficult decision

Published May 15, 2013

Angelina Jolie revealed yesterday in a New York Times op-ed article that she underwent a double mastectomy even though she doesn’t have breast cancer. She did that because she carries a gene (BRCA1) that substantially increases her chances of developing the disease. Her mother’s 10-year losing battle with ovarian cancer helped guide her decision. Women who carry BRCA1, BRCA2, or who have at least two close relatives—a mother, sister, or daughter—who have had breast or ovarian cancer are candidates for prophylactic mastectomy. Some women who develop cancer in one breast often have both breasts removed to avoid a recurrence of the disease. Taking time to make the decision, and talking it over with a trusted and knowledgeable expert, is an important part of the decision-making process. Having as much information as possible before choosing prophylactic mastectomy is as empowering as making the decision itself.

Research We're Watching: Older women can wait two years for next mammogram

Updated May 1, 2013

How often should you have a mammogram? That depends on which medical group's recommendations you follow. The American Cancer Society says all women over 40 should have this breast cancer screening test once a year, but the CDC and USPSTF say once every two years is fine for women ages 50 to 74. A study published online in February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute adds credibility to the biennial recommendation for women older than 65. The study looked at breast cancer outcomes in 140,000 women (ages 66 to 89). Women who had a mammogram each year had a 48% risk for false-positive results (finding cancer where there is none), compared with a 29% risk in women who had the test every two years. Plus, the chance of the test finding a late-stage breast cancer was similar in both groups. This study suggests that older women can have similar outcomes—and a lower chance of a false-positive result—if they wait an extra year to have a mammogram. But ultimately, the decision on how often to screen should be individualized. Based on your breast cancer risks, ask your doctor how often you should have a mammogram.

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Caution: Cancer risk elevated in women with dense breasts

Updated May 1, 2013

But new research offers reassurance that dense breasts don't raise risk of cancer death.

Dense breast tissue can make it harder to see breast cancer on a mammogram. Dense breasts have more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue. Past research has found that women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer. Higher blood levels of estrogen raise the risk both of dense breasts and breast cancer, possibly explaining the link. The association is so important that five states have now passed laws requiring that women whose mammograms show dense breasts must be notified of this fact.

Why breast density matters

Updated April 1, 2013

What it means to have dense breasts—and how they can affect your breast cancer risk.

After a routine mammogram, your radiologist or doctor might have told you that you have dense breasts. But what exactly are dense breasts, and how can they affect your breast cancer risk?

Preventive mastectomy

Updated March 1, 2013

Worry is driving some women to unnecessarily have both breasts removed.

Living through the physical and emotional toll of breast cancer is so traumatic that some women can't bear the thought of doing it again. That's why a growing number of women who have already been diagnosed with cancer in one breast are taking drastic measures to avoid getting cancer in the other, by having both breasts surgically removed (a procedure called prophylactic mastectomy).

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