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Advances in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment Give Hope, Save Lives

Breast cancer awareness ribbon

Every October we focus on the fight against breast cancer by raising awareness and spending money on items that help fund research. The good news is that those efforts aren’t in vain. Here are five exciting new research findings that should greatly benefit victims of and those at risk for breast cancer:

New Test Shows if Breast Cancer Sufferers Can Skip Chemo

The Oncotype DX Test is used to analyze genes from cancerous breast tissue. The results of the test will indicate how likely a person is to have a recurrence and how effective chemotherapy will be. A recent study showed that women with Oncotype DX test scores between zero and 10 can be effectively treated with just hormonal therapy and skip the chemo altogether. Scientists will continue to research test subjects with scores between 11 and 25 to see if they can more clearly determine whether or not chemo is beneficial to them.

Starting Mammograms at Age 40 Does Save Lives

Medical professionals have questioned the effectiveness of early-age mammograms, citing that false positives result in invasive and burdensome procedures. But one British study showed that when women who are at risk for breast cancer start getting regular mammograms at age 40, more lives are indeed saved.

Researchers divided women into two groups. One group started receiving mammograms at around age 40, the other received prescribed care, getting regular mammograms starting at age 50. After nearly 20 years, the researchers have found that fewer women in the earlier group died from breast cancer than the women receiving the standard care. The early intervention did save lives.

Immunotherapy Is Providing New Hope

Many cancers can be treated with immunotherapy, by teaching the immune system to find and fight the cancerous cells. Breast cancer, however, has been thought to have been immunologically silent and not treatable through immunotherapy. This may be changing, though.

The trials are still in early stages, but leading oncologists have said the results give them reason to believe that immunotherapy can be an effective treatment for breast cancer in the future with more testing and research. One type of immunotherapy had an 89.7 percent five-year survival rate. Currently, this is a treatment more helpful in early stages of breast cancer because it takes time for the body to build the immune reaction, but it could mean less invasive and damaging treatments for breast cancer patients.

Confirmed: Obesity Makes It Easier for Tumors to Grow

Knowledge gained from a 2015 study has given doctors another tool in the fight against breast cancer. Research has confirmed that women who are obese — having a body-mass index of 25 or higher — are more likely to develop breast cancer, especially after menopause. Fat cells make estrogen and higher amounts of estrogen make certain types of breast cancers grow.

This new study also found that obesity changes the consistency of breast tissue. Obesity makes the framework of fat cells stiffer and that stiffness actually creates an environment more conducive for tumor growth. Knowing that obesity can encourage breast cancer, doctors can use these new facts to help persuade their patients to maintain a healthier weight.

Fewer Women Are Dying of Breast Cancer

Researchers reported last July that fewer women are dying as a result of breast cancer. The study focused on the SEER database, a registry of U.S. cancer cases maintained by the National Institutes of Health. The database contained information about 543,171 women who had been diagnosed with a first, primary invasive cancer. Researchers calculated how many women had been diagnosed and died from breast cancer from 1973 to 2010. In 1988, it was reported that 33.5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. died from the disease. The 2010 results in the new study showed that only 23.5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer died.

Researchers concluded that in sufferers under the age of 70, sizes of cancer hadn’t changed, so the higher survival rates are the result of better treatments. In women over the age of 70, cancer sizes were smaller, meaning that they had been diagnosed and treated earlier, linking the survival rate to early detection as well as better treatments.


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