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Breast Health & Disease Archive

Articles

Your breasts may offer clues about your heart health

Updated September 1, 2020

Could a closer look at your mammogram help guide efforts to prevent heart disease?

Your mammogram could offer a glimpse at more than just the health of your breasts. It may also provide important clues about your heart.

When a radiologist reads a mammogram, she or he sometimes sees little white streaks that look like lines of chalk inside the arteries of your breast. These lines are actually deposits of calcium called arterial calcifications. If you have them, it could mean that you have similar deposits in other arteries inside your body, including those that bring blood to your heart muscle — a known risk factor for heart disease.

Can I outwalk breast cancer?

Updated August 1, 2020

Ask the doctors

Q. I've heard that walking could reduce my risk of breast cancer. Is this true?

A. Yes, it's true. Walking is not only a great form of exercise to help keep your heart healthy, it could potentially reduce your risk of breast cancer. One 2013 study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that women who walked seven hours a week — an hour a day on average — had a 14% lower chance of getting breast cancer when compared with women who walked three hours a week or less. The benefit was seen even in women who were at higher risk for breast cancer, including those who were overweight or who were taking hormone therapy. It's not clear how walking helps, but experts speculate that physical activity might help keep the body's levels of estrogen and insulin in check. Both of these hormones can fuel breast cancer, so regulating them more effectively could reduce your risk.

Can a high-fiber diet reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Updated July 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Your diet may influence your breast cancer risk. An analysis of 20 studies by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which was published online April 6, 2020, by the journal Cancer, found that women who ate the most fiber were 8% less likely to go on to develop breast cancer compared with the women who ate the least.

The reduction in breast cancer risk was seen for both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers, as well as different types of breast cancer, including those that were estrogen and progesterone receptor–positive and estrogen and progesterone receptor–negative. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that that the reduction may be due to fiber's effect in reducing both blood sugar and estrogen levels in the body.

Are you old enough to give up your screening mammogram?

Updated July 1, 2020

There's no easy answer to this question. Rather, women should make the decision based on their individual needs.

Most women don't look forward to their routine mammogram, which can be uncomfortable and stressful. You may wonder: Is there an age when can you dispense with this regular chore? 75, 80, 85?

The truth is that experts haven't determined a magic age when women no longer need breast cancer screening — largely because scientific evidence in this area is lacking, says Dr. Kathryn Rexrode, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital. But many experts also agree that continuing mammography might not be the right choice beyond age 75. The real question, they say, is what is the right age for you to stop based on your individual needs? To decide, you need to understand both the potential risks and benefits of breast cancer screening.

Cancer death rates continue to decline

Updated June 1, 2020

Research we're watching

According to a report published March 12 in the journal Cancer, the rate of death from cancer has continued to decline in the United States, dropping on average 1.5% a year from 2001 to 2017. The decline showed up for all ethnic and age groups between 2013 and 2017. The findings were based on cancer incidence data collected by the CDC and the National Cancer Institute.

But not all news was good: the number of new cancer diagnoses in women rose slightly during 2012 to 2016. A more detailed look at cancer deaths among women found a drop in cancer deaths for a majority of the most common cancers, including breast cancer, melanoma, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. But deaths in women increased when it came to uterine, brain, liver, heart, and pancreatic cancer.

Is it time to give up your annual mammogram?

Published May 1, 2020

The question of what age a woman can stop having mammograms does not have a definite answer, but is one each woman must answer based on her circumstances and her feelings about the risks of the procedure versus its benefits.

Toxic beauty

Updated April 1, 2020

Are your personal care products putting your health at risk?

The average woman uses 12 different beauty products every day — cleansers, conditioners, hair dyes, fragrances, skin care products, scented lotions, nail polish, and makeup, to name a few. Take a quick glance at the labels, and you'll see a cocktail of chemical components.

You might assume that all these ingredients have been tested to ensure that they're safe for long-term use. That's not the case.

Researchers test new technology for screening dense breasts

Updated March 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Can a new breast screening technology find more cancers in women with dense breast tissue? A study managed by the American College of Radiology (ACR) Center for Research and Innovation will compare contrast-enhanced spectral mammography (CESM) to other screening technologies used for dense breasts (those that contain a higher proportion of active tissue than fat). It's difficult to find cancers in dense breast tissue using traditional mammography because the active tissue shows up as white areas on a mammogram, just like cancers do, making abnormalities harder to see.

CESM is similar in some ways to traditional mammography, but before having the usual x-ray, the woman is injected with a special iodine-based contrast agent that highlights abnormal areas on the image more clearly. Cancerous tumors typically create new blood vessels when they form, and the contrast agent can reveal that increased blood flow, alerting the radiologist to a potential cancer.

Could your breast implants be making you sick?

Updated February 1, 2020

Many women are reporting symptoms they believe are associated with their breast implants. Sometimes called breast implant illness, this combination of vague symptoms—such as hair loss, fatigue, anxiety, and depression—is also associated with a number of other conditions, including menopause, thyroid problems, and autoimmune conditions. Researchers are now working with patient advocacy groups to better understand the problem. Experts recommend that women understand the potential risks and benefits of breast implants before having the surgical procedure.

Hormones and breast cancer: What you should know

Updated January 1, 2020

New research again links increased breast cancer risk to longer use of hormone therapy.

The link between hormone therapy and breast cancer has been recognized for years. But an analysis published Aug. 29, 2019, in The Lancet has added some additional information to the discussion. The analysis looked at 58 studies that included information on the type and timing of hormone use in individual women, and their body mass index. Researchers began gathering the studies in 1992 and continued until 2018.

We asked Dr. Wendy Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, to help us sort through both the old and new information on hormone use and breast cancer and what it means for women considering starting hormone therapy.

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