Innovative breast cancer research: What you need to know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women over the age of 20. It is a complex disease requiring evidence-based prevention strategies and treatments to better serve the population. But how does the latest research impact you and your loved ones?

New discoveries and advancements in breast cancer are being made every year. Thanks to companies and brands like Scotties Facial Tissue, who have supported Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation since 2005, their contributions have helped fund the most innovative breast cancer research, health education and advocacy programs dedicated to making positive change in the lives of those affected by breast cancer and their loved ones. By supporting brands like Scotties Facial Tissue and purchasing their limited edition Hope boxes, you can have a direct impact on the vision to create a future without breast cancer. Through partnerships like this one, more can be done to progress the efforts in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Screening

A recent study released in British Medical Journal evaluated the effectiveness of contemporary mammography. The study was open to Norwegian women aged 50 to 69 at the onset of its new screening program. The study revealed a mortality rate reduction of 37 per cent in women who were screened vs. those who were not. This study solidifies the evidence that screening mammography saves lives.

Genetics

Dr. Peter Rogan, Canada Research Chair in Genome Bioinformatics, Department of Biochemistry at Western University, is in the midst of a three-year grant funded by Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF), aiming to detect new genetic mutations that cause breast cancer in women who are BRCA1 and BRCA2 negative. This research will help all women with a family history of breast cancer but without the well-known BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Although the research is not yet complete, Dr. Rogan has already discovered a number of previously unknown mutations that he believes to be cancer-causing.

Prevention

Could where you work increase your chance of developing breast cancer? A recent study by Dr. James Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith released in November 2012 proves this to be true. They found that work environments with higher rates of carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer by 42 per cent on average. Common high-risk work environments include work in agriculture, bars, automotive plastic manufacturing, food canning and metal working. They suggest that more strict work-safety guidelines should be in place.

Many studies have found that exercise reduces a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. However, a recent study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention shows that if you stop exercising, then the protective effect wears off. This means that even if you were fit five years ago, if you are currently inactive, then you might be increasing your risk of developing breast cancer.

The role of anti-inflammatories

A recent study published in the August 2014 issue of the journal Cancer Research found that overweight or obese women who took a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as aspirin or ibuprofen daily after being diagnosed with hormone receptor positive breast cancer had about a 50 per cent lower rate of recurrence compared to women who did not take an NSAID daily. A different study published in the same issue of the same journal also found that women prescribed aspirin prior to being diagnosed were less likely to have cancer cells that spread to their lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis. As there were some flaws in these studies, more research needs to be done to determine the place that NSAIDs will have in prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

Treatment

The last few years have been an exciting time for research in breast cancer treatment. With the emerging field of pharmacogenomics (essentially the study of drugs that target specific genes), the research and development of breast cancer treatment are constantly changing. Currently there are drugs that target specific genes, such as the estrogen receptor and the overexpression of the HER2 receptor, and the number of drugs available is always growing. The hope is that in the future, through genetic testing, we can offer personalized cancer treatment depending on which mutations and gene overexpressions are present.

Breast cancer in young women

Currently CBCF is supporting and investing in a Canadian research team that has started research on breast cancer in young women. The biology of breast cancer in young women is unique and therefore requires special attention to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support. This research will hopefully provide better guidelines to determine who might be at risk as well as screening for women over the age of 40. It will also look at whether treatment options should be altered for young women and how the genetics might differ from breast cancer in older women.

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Ovarian cancer: Being aware

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