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Breast Health & Disease Archive

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Researchers explore blood test to detect early breast cancer

Published October 3, 2012

Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a blood test that rapidly detects breast cancer (as well as non-small cell lung cancer) in very early stages, long before symptoms appear or the cancer can be seen by other methods. The experimental test identifies enzyme patterns that differ from one type of cancer to another. According to the researchers, the test can detect very early breast cancers (stages 0 and 1), as well as early lung cancers (stages 1 and 2), within an hour, with 95% accuracy. However, they tested only 32 participants with various stages of breast or lung cancer, as well as 12 people without cancer. Whether finding cancer that early makes a difference for treatment and survival remains to be seen.

Breakthrough breast cancer drug

Updated October 1, 2012

Finally, some hope for women who've run out of options.

The word "remarkable" isn't often used to describe breast cancer treatments, but that's what doctors are calling T-DM1. It's a new drug for an especially ferocious cancer that accounts for 20% of breast cancers and affects women of all ages. "It's a remarkable drug for two reasons. One, it's very effective even in women who've already had their cancer progress on prior therapies. And two, it's remarkably low in side effects," says Dr. Ian Krop, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the lead investigators in the third and most recent trial of the drug. Findings were presented in June at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Making smart screening decisions: Part 2: Breast cancer

Updated October 1, 2012

Learn which breast cancer screening tests you need, and when to have them.

Considering that one out of every eight of us will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, screening for this disease is among the most important tests we'll ever have. In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Harvard Women's Health Watch asked Dr. Pamela DiPiro, assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School to help us make sense of breast cancer screening recommendations.

Study backs mammograms for women 50 to 69

Published September 17, 2012

For years researchers have been trying to weigh the benefits of finding early breast cancers against the risks related to false positives (the spots that turn out to be harmless). This work has sparked some bitter public debates and confusion for women over flip-flopping recommendations. The latest salvo comes from a review of the results of mammograms among more than 12 million women in 18 European countries. The results support the idea that routine mammograms can prevent deaths from breast cancer without causing undue harm. The findings support the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendation that women between the ages of 50 and 74 have a mammogram every other year. Women at higher risk of developing breast cancer may need mammograms earlier than age 50, or more often than every other year.

Staying fit might lower your odds of getting breast cancer

Updated September 1, 2012

Daily physical activity reduces a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. Women who work out between 10 and 19 hours a week have a breast cancer risk about 30% lower than that of inactive women.

Breast cancer risk and alcohol

Updated August 1, 2012

Research suggests no more than one drink per day.

Previous research has found that drinking alcohol can increase a woman's risk of invasive breast cancer. How much alcohol raises the risk?

Staying fit linked to lower breast cancer risk

Published July 6, 2012

Daily exercise appears to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a study published online in the journal Cancer. The type or intensity of the exercise didn’t seem to matter, as long as it was done often. How much exercise is needed to lower breast cancer risk? In this study of 3,000 women, 10 to 19 hours a week (about two hours a day) had the greatest benefit. Age didn’t seem to matter—physical activity reduced breast cancer risk in younger women during their reproductive years and older women after menopause. What did make a difference in the effect of exercise was weight gain—especially after menopause. Gaining a significant amount of weight essentially wiped out the benefits of exercise on breast cancer risk in older women.

Coping better after breast cancer

Updated July 1, 2012

Complementary therapies help psychological recovery.

New research offers hope to women struggling with the stress, depression, and fatigue that often come just when breast cancer treatment ends.

A study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) helped reduce stress and improve emotional well-being among women who had survived breast cancer. MBSR is a type of focused training that incorporates meditation, yoga, and physical awareness.

Experimental breast cancer drug combo generates excitement

Published June 15, 2012

Results of a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago indicates that an experimental drug combination could be effective against HER-2-positive breast cancer. The new therapy, called trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1), combines a monoclonal antibody with a potent chemotherapy agent. The combination is exciting because Herceptin guides the cell-killing chemotherapy agent to HER-2 receptors on breast cancer cells. This focused attack targets cancer cells and largely bypasses healthy cells, which the chemotherapy drug would otherwise damage. In the study, which included nearly 1,000 women with HER-2-positive breast cancer that had spread either within the breast or elsewhere in the body, 65.4% of the women taking T-DM1 were still alive after two year, compared to 47.5% of those on standard treatment for this type of cancer. In addition, women on T-DM1 experienced far fewer side effects.

Do you need mammograms?

Updated June 1, 2012

Before you get your next mammogram, learn the pros and cons of this controversial screening test.

Once a year, we subject our breasts to the ritual ordeal of poking, prodding, and viselike squeezing known as a mammogram. We willingly endure this process because we know—or at least hope—that if we do get breast cancer, a mammogram will pick it up early enough to treat it and save our life.

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