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October 2013
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October is Breast Cancer Month and here is some basic information that you should be aware of.

  • This year there will be about 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer
  • About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) of the breast will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,620 deaths from breast cancer.
  • A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases with age; more than three out of four breast cancer cases occur in women over age 50.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
  • The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 36. ( Source Center for Disease Control)

Breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. Right now there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

How can you not become a statistic?

  • Get screened for breast cancer regularly. By getting regular exams, you’re more likely to find breast cancer early.
  • Control your weight and exercise. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day. Stay active. Learn more about keeping a healthy weight and ways to increase your physical activity.
  • Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor what is your risk of getting breast cancer and how you can lower your risk.
  • Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy. Some women use hormone replacement therapy to treat the symptoms of menopause. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy and find out if it is right for you. To learn more about hormone replacement therapy, visit the National Cancer Institute—Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are—

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • Keep in mind that some of these warning signs can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.
  • If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.

A large, long-term study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is now being done to help find the causes of breast cancer. Known as the Sister Study, it has enrolled 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. This study will follow these women for at least 10 years and collect information about genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may cause breast cancer. An offshoot of the Sister Study, the Two Sister Study, is designed to look at possible causes of early onset breast cancer. To find out more about these studies, call 1-877-4-SISTER (1-877-474-7837) or visit the Sister Study Web site (

Breast cancer has had many advancements in the past several years, but as with other cancer’s, it still has a long way to go before a cure will be found.

There have been several areas of interest that researchers are currently working on. They include chemoprevention using Retinoids, which are drugs related to vitamin A . It has been show in a small study to reduce breast cancer risk as much as some estrogen blocking drugs.

There are newer imaging test that are now being studied for evaluating abnormalities that may be breast cancers. Scintimammography, uses a slightly radioactive tracer that is injected into a vein. The tracer attaches to breast cancer cells and is detected by a special camera. Some early studies have suggested that it may be almost as accurate as more expensive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This test, however, will not replace your usual screening mammogram.

Advanced breast cancers are often hard to treat, so researchers are always looking for newer drugs. Researchers are looking at new chemotherapy drugs that will be more effective.

A drug class has been developed that targets cancers caused by BRCA mutations. This class of drugs is called PARP inhibitors and they have shown promise in clinical trials treating breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers that had spread and were resistant to other treatments.

A recent study found that women with early-stage breast cancer who were vitamin D deficient were more likely to have their cancer recur in a distant part of the body and had a poorer outlook. More research is needed to confirm this finding, and it is not yet clear if taking vitamin D supplements would be helpful. Still, you might want to talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D level to see if it is in the healthy range.

As with any medical condition we cannot urge you more strongly to see your doctor. There is also MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Center Comprehensive Breast Care Program that according to MUSC, is the most advanced in South Carolina. They are the only South Carolina breast center accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) and also affiliated with a National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer center. Their Advanced Breast Reconstruction Program offers the full spectrum of breast reconstruction options, including the revolutionary DIEP flap procedure.

Most experts agree that early diagnosis and early treatment is the best defense for treating any medical problem. So if you have any concerns or questions, call your doctor today.

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