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Breast Health & Disease Archive


Factors that increase your risk for a secondary cancer

Updated August 30, 2017

Several factors can make you more likely to develop a secondary cancer. Some are under your control. Others aren't. It's important for you to discuss your risks with your doctor and find out what you can do to lower your odds of developing cancer again. Equally important, discuss how often you need to get screened, so you can catch any new cancers early.

Childhood cancer. If you developed cancer before age 15, you'll need to stay on top of your health in the years to come. Some childhood tumors are caused by inherited syndromes that contribute to a lifelong increased risk for cancer. For example, Li-Fraumeni syndrome can lead to sarcoma, leukemia, and brain and breast cancers. The treatments you received to combat childhood cancer can also make you more vulnerable to future malignancies.

Breast implants linked to rare lymphoma

Updated June 1, 2017

Research we're watching

The FDA's medical device reporting program recently announced that as of February 1, it had received 359 reports of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, in women who had received breast implants. Nine women had died of the disease. The FDA uses such reports to alert clinicians about potential significant side effects from approved drugs and devices, and as it gathers more information, the data may change. Many reports contained details of the implants, including whether the outside surface was smooth or textured and whether the filling was silicone gel or saline.

ALCL is usually found within a capsule of fibrous scar tissue that forms around an implant, not in the breast tissue itself. It appears to develop more frequently in women with textured implants, regardless of filling type.

Should you still have mammograms after age 75?

Updated May 1, 2017

The decision depends on several factors, including your breast cancer risk, life expectancy, and personal preferences.

Image: © Auremar/Thinkstock
As you get older, your body isn't the only thing that's changing. So are the guidelines for taking care of it. Breast cancer screening guidelines are a case in point. The current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines recommend a mammogram every two years for women ages 50 to 75 with an average risk of developing breast cancer. For older women, the USPSTF said there isn't enough evidence of the potential risks and benefits of mammography on which to base a recommendation.

Although breast cancer is a leading cause of death in older women, women over 75 haven't been included in studies of mammography. However, there is evidence that most breast cancers detected in older women are relatively slow growing and easily treated. While a mammogram performed today might detect a cancer that would not spread or metastasize for several years, the percentage of women who survive to that point decreases with each passing year.

Scalp cooling reduces hair loss during breast cancer chemotherapy

Updated May 1, 2017

Research we're watching

For many women with breast cancer, hair loss is the most distressing side effect of chemotherapy. Although cooling the scalp with ice packs has been tested, the technique has had limited success. However, a newer approach — wearing a cap connected to a cooling system that gradually reduces scalp temperature — has been more successful, according to two reports in the Feb. 14, 2017, Journal of the American Medical Association.

In one study, 67 of 106 women with stage I or stage II breast cancer who used the FDA-approved DigniCap during their treatment with taxane (Taxol and others) lost less than half of their hair. In comparison, 16 women who underwent the same treatment but did not wear the cooling cap lost all of their hair.

Why isn't there a more comfortable mammogram procedure?

Updated April 1, 2017

Ask the doctor

Q. I have been smashed, squashed, pulled, and tugged annually for 25 years. Why isn't there a better way to take a mammogram?

A. We hear you! Compression mammography has been the "gold standard" for decades for one reason — it works. Flattening the breast makes ductal tissue easier to distinguish and reduces the amount of radiation required to do so. Studies have demonstrated that it is the most effective approach to breast cancer screening.

Postmenopausal women treated for DCIS live as long as other women

Updated April 1, 2017

Research we're watching

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) differs from breast cancer because it is noninvasive, so it cannot spread to other parts of the body. However, it can progress to an invasive breast cancer, which can be life-threatening. Researchers from the Netherlands Cancer Institute wanted to determine how DCIS affected long-term survival.

The team studied almost 10,000 postmenopausal women who were diagnosed with DCIS between 1989 and 2004. They tracked the patients over an average of 10 years and compared their death rates with the expected mortality rates of the general population. They found that women who had been treated for DCIS had a 2.5% risk of dying of breast cancer over 10 years and a 4% risk at 15 years — rates that were higher than in the general population. But they also found that DCIS survivors had a 10% lower risk of dying from any cause compared with the general population. They presented their results Jan. 27, 2017, at the European Cancer Congress.

Many preventive mastectomies may be unnecessary

Updated February 14, 2017

Women with early cancer in one breast may opt to remove the other, healthy breast because they overestimate their risk of a second cancer.

Electroacupuncture may ease hot flashes, aid sleep in breast cancer survivors

Updated January 13, 2017

Electroacupuncture may be an effective alternative to medication for relieving hot flashes causing sleep disturbances in postmenopausal women.

Adapting to life after cancer

Updated September 14, 2016

Once you've completed treatment, adjusting to a "new normal" can be challenging.

Image: RuslaGuzov/ Thinkstock

Completing cancer therapy can feel like a graduation. You've done some hard work, it's paid off, and you may be ready to celebrate. But saying goodbye to treatment can arouse many of the emotions and uncertainties associated with beginning a new chapter in life.

Dr. Larissa Nekhlyudov is a general internist who works with cancer survivors at two Harvard affiliates, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She acknowledges that cancer survivors have a lot to deal with. "Once you've had your final chemotherapy infusion or swallowed the last pill, you may find yourself facing a new set of challenges—monitoring yourself for signs of recurrence, getting recommended follow-up care, adjusting to the long-term effects of treatment, psychologically adapting to normal life, and working to stay in good health," Dr. Nekhlyudov says.

Dense-breast notification letters are confusing, study shows

Updated June 16, 2016

Letters notifying women that they have dense breasts are difficult to understand. Women receiving them should contact their doctors.

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