Every October, as Breast Cancer Awareness events paint communities pink, we are reminded of the fight against breast cancer--and the one out of every eight women in the U.S. that will one day be on the front lines of that battle.
This year the American Cancer Society expects 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and over 39,000 deaths from the disease. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer and the third overall cause of death among American women.
With numbers like that, you have to wonder, are we winning the war against breast cancer?
The good news
After increasing for more than 2 decades, the incidence of female breast cancer decreased by about 2% per year from 1999 to 2005. This decrease was seen only in women aged 50 or older, and may be due in part to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause that occurred after the results of the Women's Health Initiative were published in 2002. This study linked the use of hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart diseases.
New diagnostic and treatment options are also increasing survival rates and improving long-term outcomes. "The progress we’ve made over the last 20 years has changed the face of the disease for American women," says Freya Schnabel, M.D., director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. "We can find it earlier, treat it more effectively, reduce recurrence and enhance survival."
New weapons in the fight
In the not-too-distant future promising new tools may aid in the battle against breast cancer:
- A nipple fluid test may reveal your chances of developing cancer. Nipple fluid is useful for breast cancer screening as it contains cells from the mammary glands, where about 95% of all breast cancers start. Researchers hope to make this test available as a home-test kit.
- Nanotechnology my spot breast cancer two years earlier than mammograms and without the use of radiation or misleading false-positives. The technology uses nanoparticles that bind to known cancer cells and magnetic sensors, much like an MRI scan, that pick up the location of the particles.
- A new drug called Exemestane, which decreases the amount of estrogen produced by the body, cut the incidence of breast cancer by 65% in a recent study released in June. This gives women who can’t take Tamoxifen (due to a personal history of blood clots) another prevention option.
- Experts believe that we’ll continue to see a trend towards customized therapies rather than a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. This will lead to shorter and less intense courses of radiation and chemotherapy for many women.
What you can do
While we are making progress against breast cancer, we have many more battles yet to fight--and you can help.
- Know your risks factors for breast cancer.
- Speak with your doctor about breast-self exams and when/how often you should have regular breast cancer screenings. Take advantage of free or low-cost screening programs if you do not have access to health insurance. Find a program in your area.
- You can help find a cure by participating in clinical trials as a subject or volunteer. Healthy women are also needed for clinical trials so that researchers can compare healthy breast tissue to cancerous tissue. For more information, follow these links:
- While less than 1% of all breast cancer occurs in men, men should report any changes in the nipple or surrounding tissue to their doctor.
- Support the women in your life who may one day be touched by breast cancer.
Find more ways to raise awareness of breast cancer, in this video from Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention