Breast cancer awareness: Testing urged, guidelines explained, misconceptions explored

Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2, the
genes most commonly involved in breast
cancer, have up to an 80 percent chance
of getting the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although Kentucky’s breast cancer rate is slightly lower than the nationwide rate, almost 600 women die every year from breast cancer in the
Commonwealth. The American Cancer Society predicts
approximately 3,160 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in
Kentucky this year.

Early detection and prompt treatment can significantly reduce suffering
and death from the disease.

According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, all health plans serving Kentuckians must, by law, cover
mammograms. Medical guidelines strongly recommend that women older than
40 have annual mammograms and women younger than 40 with a family
history of breast cancer should also have regular screenings.

Through local health departments, the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program provides breast cancer
screenings, mammograms and
Pap tests to eligible women in every county. During the 2011 fiscal year, KWCSP provided breast cancer screenings
to 14,212 women. Services are provided to low-income women through the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Those women must be uninsured with incomes less than 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines. 

For more information about breast cancer or screening services, call your local health department.

There are many misconceptions about the risks of developing breast cancer. Genetics, of course, is a well-documented factor but lifestyle issues have gotten a lot of talk. So what’s true? Wendy Chen, MD, MPH, a breast cancer expert at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, a principal teaching affiliate of Harvard University, tackles some of the more common questions here:

1) Soy may increase the risk of breast cancer returning.
False. Chen, who was part of a study that looked at over 9,500 American and Chinese breast cancer survivors who ate soy every day, says that eating soy may be linked to a lower risk of recurrence of breast cancer.

2) Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer.
True. Dana-Farber researchers found that women who consume one alcoholic drink a day may increase their risk for breast cancer.  Chen and her colleagues analyzed data from over 105,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Those who consumed three to six glasses of wine a week were 15 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer. Those who drank fewer than three drinks a week had no increased risk.

3) Fertility treatments increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
False. According to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, ovulation-inducing fertility treatments like Clomid and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) do not significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

4) Wearing deodorant can increase the risk of breast cancer.
False. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no conclusive research linking underarm deodorants to breast cancer.

5) The bigger the baby the bigger the risk of getting breast cancer.
Possibly true. “This is a tough one because the research is still evolving,” says Chen. “But the latest research shows that women who have larger babies have more than twice the risk of developing breast cancer than mothers who give birth to smaller infants. Researchers say that having a heavier baby may create a hormonal environment in pregnancy that could lead to the future development of breast cancer. They found that during pregnancy in women who have heavier babies, the ratio of estrogen to anti-estrogen is unusually high. The greater the level of estrogen, the higher the risk of breast cancer. However, Chen emphasizes, women who have larger babies should not panic. There is definitely a need for further research.” (Read more)

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