In the last few years, breast cancer awareness campaigns have seen significant success. According to the director of Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, Dr. Marc Hurlbert, prevention will be the primary focus for the next decade of research. This is a great approach to have, but there has already been significant steps taken, even in just this last year.
Let’s look at some of the most important breast cancer research breakthroughs from the 2013:
1) Better Benefits from Regular Exercise
New research from the University of Minnesota has provided more insight into exatly how exercise can reduce someone’s risk for breast cancer. “Exercise seems to change the way your body handles estrogen, which often fuels breast cancer,” said Dr. Mindy Kurzer, the co-author of this research.
A similar study from the University of North Carolina (UNC) showed that just a few hours of physical activity per week could impact breast cancer risk. The research shows that the more exercise someone consistently gets, the lower their risk will eventually be. Kurzer remarked that it can produce just as much benefit as the leading breast cancer prevention drugs.
2) Some Foods Do Indeed Fight Cancer
This year, Harvard researchers linked the consumption of vegetables to a lowered risk of estrogen receptor negative (ER-negative) breast cancer, a deadlier type that accounts for some 15 to 20 percent of cases (higher rates among younger women).
A different breast cancer study revealed a connection between higher concentrations of carotenoids (micronutrient found in fruits and vegetables) and lower risk for ER-negative breast cancer. Consuming berries can also help reduce the risk for ER-positive tumors (70 percent of breast cancer patients).
3) At-Risk Women Given New Prevention Option
At the start of 2013, the American Society of Clinical Oncology suggested that more doctors look into using exemestane with healthy postmenopausal women who are at increased risk for breast cancer. This drug is currently only applied to patients who have been positively diagnosed.
An earlier clinical trial showed that this drug was able to reduce the risk of ER-positive breast cancer by more than 70 percent compared to a placebo. This means that at-risk women have another viable option – aside from tamoxifen and raloxifene – for combating cancer.
4) Importance of Breast Density
Denser breasts could mean that a person is more than twice as likely to develop this disease compared to the norm. Since this information has been released, more health centers are letting women known if they have denser breast tissue following their mammograms. This denser tissue holds more of the specific cells that can promote cancer growth and hide tumors in mammogram results.
This also can explain why mammography may not always be the best route for younger women, as their breasts tend to be denser overall. Digital mammography may be a better route to take, since it can highlight certain abnormalities better than the original.
5) Improved Screening Tools
There is now a 3-D version available of digital mammography, known as digital breast tomosynthesis. It has proven more efficient at distinguishing between more invasive cancers and the 2-D predecessor, especially with its more complete image. It may be a while out though, because most insurance companies haven’t yet started covering this type of screening yet.
6) More Efficient Radiation Therapy
Just about two-thirds of breast cancer patients will have small ER-positive tumors says a specialist from the Cleveland Clinic. Several studies have shown that a single high dose of radiation during a lumpectomy works about as well as six weeks of postsurgical radiation. There is also a significant chance that the therapy could damage other healthy tissue in the area. The new method applies radiation to only a 1 cm zone around the lumpectomy cavity.
7) Eliminate Cancer Earlier
Surgeons following a surgery to determine if the cells on the tumor’s margins are hard or soft use MarginProbe, a device that was approved by the FDA last year. Normally, cancerous cells tend to be harder due to the concentration of collagen. It gives surgeons the ability to remove the excess tissue then and there, instead of having the patient come back in for more surgery later.
This year has certainly been an eventful one for breast cancer research, as well as cancer research in general. Be sure to keep posted for more on these amazing new developments as we follow them.