Decoding breast cancer

A physician examines a mammogram.
A physician examines a mammogram.
What are the latest facts about breast cancer? After scanning the world’s best medical journals and conducting interviews with top South African breast surgeons and geneticists, we bring you interesting facts and practical tips.

The latest research on treatment
1.The success rate of new hormonal treatment for breast cancer is very promising. Studies show that women who received hormonal treatment immediately after diagnosis and prior to surgery, experienced such marked shrinkage of the lump, that half of all patients who were earmarked for a mastectomy (complete removal of the breast) needed only a lumpectomy (removal of the lump, but saving the breast).

2. A new comprehensive study in 381 breast clinics worldwide shows that new adjuvant therapy with aromatase blockers can stop breast cancer as well as or even better than tamoxifen.

Important notes on breast cancer

  • Breast cancer is the world's number one cancer among women.
  • About ten percent of all breast cancer cases are hereditary. Two breast cancer genes are mainly involved in these ten percent of cases. The remaining 90 percent of cases can be attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • The sons of mothers with breast cancer gene number one, are at increased risk for prostate cancer, and the sons of moms with breast cancer gene number two, are at increased risk for breast cancer (the type of cancer with which Tom Cruise was diagnosed).
  • The survival rate depends on an early diagnosis and the skill and experience of the surgeon. Pick a surgeon who performs more than fifteen breast cancer operations per year.
  • Mammography is safe and recommended for women over 40. It is important to pick an experienced radiologist. A lump with a diameter less than 2 cm will be classified as a Grade 1 lump.
  • New research on detoxifying enzymes shows that people maintaining a healthy lifestyle – exercising three times per week, no smoking, no smoked proteins, lots of fruit and vegetables and limited intake of animals fats – can in fact delay the onset of cancer.
  • The genetic profile of a woman with breast cancer can determine her treatment. Women diagnosed with breast cancer and who carry the HER-2/neu gene react very well to certain types of treatment, while women with other genes react better to other treatment regimes.

Practical tips and steps to detect breast cancer early

  • Breast self-examination is recommended for all women older than 18. It should be done once a month while lying down or showering. The best time is ten to fourteen days after the onset of a menstrual period.
  • If a woman or her doctor detects a lump, and the woman is older than 25, fine needle aspiration is indicated to determine the histology (cells) of the lump. Don’t let the doctor tell you otherwise.
  • If a woman detects a lump, she needs mammography.
  • If your mother, aunt, sister or grandmother were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, it may be wise to consider a genetic DNA test to determine if you carry an identified breast cancer gene or the p53, associated with an increased risk for cancer. If people with these genes adapt their lifestyle to a healthy one, and undergo mammography on a yearly basis, they can delay the onset of cancer or prevent it entirely, or at least ensure early detection and treatment.
  • Don’t smoke, eat four to five fruits and vegetables per day, eat less than a tablespoon of animal fats per day.
  • Climb a mountain, have a good laugh with friends, tackle the rapids of the Doorn River, or spoil yourself in a spa. Don’t forget to live and to be good to yourself.

- (Mari Hudson, Health24)

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