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Breast Health & Disease Archive

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Ask the doctor: Is thermography a good screening tool for breast cancer?

Updated July 1, 2011

Q. When you talk about breast cancer screening, why don't you mention thermography? I've been using it for several years instead of mammography, which uses radiation.

A. The short answer is, we don't have good evidence that thermography is useful, and it definitely is not a substitute for mammography.

Soy may be okay for breast cancer survivors

Updated June 1, 2011

Prospective studies show no increased risk of recurrence.

At one time, soy seemed to be just the ticket for women: heart-healthy, good for bones, and helpful for hot flashes. And then there was the low rate of breast cancer in soy-consuming countries. But as so often with "miracle foods," closer study has dampened some of the enthusiasm.

Early research indicated that soy protein could lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, but later studies were so unimpressive that the American Heart Association asked that food companies no longer be allowed to label soy products as helpful in preventing heart disease. It's still unclear whether soy does much for bones or hot flashes. And although some studies suggest that it may protect against breast cancer, other research has found that isoflavones (a component of soy that binds to estrogen receptors) can spur the growth of breast cancer cells in test tubes and animals. There's also some concern that soy's estrogenic activity may interfere with tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent recurrence in women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. As a result, some clinicians advise patients with breast cancer to limit their consumption of soy or avoid it altogether.

Timing of hormone therapy influences breast cancer risk

Updated April 1, 2011

Many postmenopausal women and their clinicians are avoiding hormone therapy (HT) because of the health risks, but there's been some hope that it might be safer in younger women near or at menopause. In the case of breast cancer, at least, that isn't so, according to results from the Million Women Study in the United Kingdom. In this study, taking HT in early menopause was actually associated with a higher than average risk of breast cancer. Also important — for the many women wondering about the impact of their past HT use — results showed that soon after quitting HT, a woman's breast cancer risk was no greater than that of a woman who never had HT. Finally, the study found little or no increased breast cancer risk among women taking estrogen-only HT who waited at least five years after menopause to start taking hormones. Results were published online Jan. 28, 2011 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Other research has consistently found higher rates of breast cancer in women taking HT — in particular, combined estrogen and progestin. But few studies have investigated the timing of HT and how that influences breast cancer risk. The Million Women Study is the first to look specifically at the relationship between breast cancer incidence and when women started HT.

The mental and emotional challenges of surviving cancer

Published March 28, 2011

New government statistics show that there are nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States. In many ways this is terrific news, and a testament to improved diagnosis and treatment options. But there’s a flip side to surviving cancer, and many survivors are never totally “free” of the disease. The ongoing psychological and emotional issues can be almost as much a challenge as cancer treatment was. Harvard Health editor Ann MacDonald explores the ongoing fear of recurrence, survivor guilt, the “Damocles syndrome,” and more.

What to do when health problems or medical treatments thwart your love life

Published February 12, 2011

Health problems, or treatments for them, sometimes thwart sexual desire and sexual function. There may not be a quick fix for health-related sexual problems, but there are things you can do to enjoy your love life while taking care of the rest of your health.

Finding lung cancer early

Updated January 1, 2011

CT scans may break the impasse over lung cancer screening, although many questions remain.

Screening people for lung cancer ought to work. Lung cancer is common, relative to other cancers, so you're not looking for a needle in a haystack. If it's caught at a very early stage, it often can be treated effectively with surgery and even cured. Current and former smokers are easy to identify, so focusing on a high-risk group is pretty straightforward. And the technological means to spot suspicious growths and lesions in the lungs has existed for decades.

Calcium beyond the bones

Updated March 1, 2010

Calcium can accumulate in our bodies where it doesn't belong. Is too much calcium intake to blame?

Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the human body. Almost all of it — 99% — is stored in the skeleton, where it serves to maintain healthy bones and teeth. But that's not all it does. Calcium is also essential for the normal functioning of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Tiny amounts are dissolved in the fluid inside and outside every cell in the body. Too much or too little calcium can be deadly to those cells, so the body carefully controls its blood levels.

Genetic test for breast cancer

Updated June 1, 2009
If you are considering getting the genetic test for breast cancer, Dr. Julie Silver explains what they look for and who should get it. Learn more now.

How to help a friend with cancer

Updated June 1, 2009
When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know what to do or what to say. But there are ways to help. Dr. Julie Silver offers her personal experience on how to help a friend with cancer.

Breast disorders in men

Updated June 19, 2019

The male breast is much smaller than its female counterpart, and it cannot produce milk. Because of this smaller size and simpler structure, breast disease is much less common in men than women. Still, men can develop important breast problems, both benign and malignant. Early detection is the key to a successful outcome, so every man should understand the basic elements of male breast disease.

Jogger's nipple

Irritation of the nipple is more common than enlargement of the breast itself. Pain, redness, and even bleeding of the male nipple are fairly common complications of intense, prolonged exercise — hence the common names "jogger's" and "marathoner's" nipple. The cause is not running itself but the mechanical irritation of the runner's shirt rubbing up and down against his chest, especially in hot, humid weather.

You don't have to give up running to cure jogger's nipple. Instead, apply some petroleum jelly to your nipples before you run. Plastic Band-Aids are even better; round "spots" are particularly handy. Or simply run without a shirt when it's hot or humid.

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