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What's new in breast cancer research, treatments and campaigns?

Pinking up!

In celebration of women's health, October has become synonymous with breast cancer awareness. Thankfully, there is a steady stream of new information and advancements in breast cancer research. The slogans and pamphlets encouraging women to have routine physicals and mammograms, and to conduct monthly self-exams, have become a vital part of helping women manage and fight this disease.

Whether you're looking for a few creative options to throw your support to a local breast cancer campaign, or to learn about some of the latest research and medical advances, this empowering knowledge is sure to help you and your loved ones stay informed.

New take on prevention

"Knowing your history gives you and your health care provider valuable knowledge in protecting your health," says board certified radiation oncologist and author Dr Carol L. Kornmehl, MD, FACRO. Because up to 30 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a family history of the disease, making sure that you and your doctor have all of the facts will help you formulate a health plan.

Why should you perform self-exams if you're under 40? Many do not realize that this year alone more than 11,000 women ages 15-40 will be diagnosed with this disease. With one in seven American women at risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, it is never too early to establish good breast health practices. Young women's cancers are generally more aggressive, making early detection extremely important.

Because mammograms are not recommended for most women until age 40, younger women are often diagnosed late. "This can possibly lower the chance of survival," notes Dr Cheryl Perkins, Komen Foundation senior clinical advisor. Health care providers caution it is vitally important for all women to become familiar with how their breasts look and feel through monthly breast self examinations beginning no later than age 20.

Many breast cancer survivors credit their partners with early detection. Share the responsibility and enlist your partner to conduct monthly breast exams. "If either of you notice a change in your breasts, contact your health care provider for further evaluation immediately," says Dr Kornmehl.

New treatments

Up to 35 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer this year will have the disease metastasize to their liver. A new study suggests microsphere therapy is a potential treatment option for these women. Participants received a single treatment of SIR-Spheres, as well as CT and PET scans every three months. All responded to the treatment with a reduction in the number and size of lesions. 79 percent of patients were still alive one year later. Side effects were mild to moderate, with only a small number of patients requiring treatment for nausea and pain.

"The results from this study indicate that treatment of liver metastases from breast cancer can be accomplished safely and effectively with microspheres," says Dr Douglas Coldwell, an interventional radiologist in Dallas.

Oncologists and researchers are also using a new blood test to quickly target better treatments for women living with advanced breast cancer. CellSearch captures, identifies and counts circulating tumor cells in blood, making it a faster and more accurate test than imaging scans. This is the first FDA-approved test to identify and count cancer cells that have detached from a solid tumor and enter the bloodstream, and is widely available in the United States.

New research

Sister Study is a landmark national research project examining how the environment and genetics affect a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. The project, which began in 2004, has registered more than 27,000 women to date and plans to include more than 50,000 women whose sisters have had breast cancer, making it the largest study of its kind.

"We need about 23,000 more women to sign up to participate in this important study," says Sister Study spokesperson Beth Weaver. The 10-year project, conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, takes a detailed look through a series of questionnaires and samples at how genes and the environment may influence breast cancer risk.

Another new study is providing more hope. According to cancer prevention specialists at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center, taking 1,000 IUs of vitamin D daily appears to lower the risk of developing certain cancers, including colon, breast, and ovarian cancer, by up to 50 percent. Registered Dietician Carroll Reider, MS notes that "reaching the recommended intake levels through a healthy diet rich in vitamins and sunlight are the best 'D-fense' against breast cancer."

New support

Diagnosed at the age of 36, breast cancer survivor Lisa Frank co-founded the Young Survival Coalition. The YSC is the only international non-profit organization dedicated to the critical concerns and issues unique to young women affected by breast cancer. Through action, advocacy and awareness, the YSC seeks to increase the quality and quantity of life for all young women affected by breast cancer by educating the medical, research, breast cancer and legislative communities of their special needs and influencing them to address the incidence of the disease in women 40 and under.

By providing support and information, the Young Survival Coalition brings to light how important it is for women of all ages to understand this disease and know that breast cancer patients not only survive, but thrive. In addition, the YSC serves as a point of contact and source of support for young women affected by the disease.

New ways to join the cause

You may have raced or walked for a cure, but now you can Lace Up for the Cure. New Balance's Lace Up for the Cure includes women's footwear, apparel and accessories that all feature the distinctive pink ribbon. Several men's co-survivor items are also available, and for every $25.00 minimum purchase of any Lace Up for the Cure merchandise consumers will receive a donation form to send to New Balance. For each form received, New Balance will donate $5.00 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation up to $175,000.

Panera Bread is also helping in the fight by offering a specially-created pink ribbon-shaped bagel in all of its nearly 1,000 bakery/cafes during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During the entire month of October, Panera will donate a portion of the proceeds from each Pink Ribbon Bagel sold to a variety of breast cancer causes, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization.

Three reasons to perform a breast self-exam

1. Know your body

Firsthand knowledge of how your breasts look and feel empowers you to recognize when something changes.

2. Self-exams may result in earlier detection

Breast cancer is most treatable in its earliest stages, so if something develops in the time between one clinical breast exam and annual mammogram and the next, you must serve as your own health advocate and visit your physician immediately.

3. Why not

It doesn't cost anything, takes only a few minutes a month and is a simple step to add to your wellness routine!

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