Breast cancer affects approximately 200,000 women in the United States alone. Each year, breast cancer claims the lives of over 40,000 women—mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, and friends.
But it’s not only women—approximately 2,100 men are diagnosed with this disease each year, claiming the lives of 500 men annually.
Anything that increases a patient’s odds of developing a disease is called a risk factor. The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but women who see their gynecologists regularly, schedule an annual mammogram after 40, and maintain a healthy weight and balanced diet run a considerably lower risk of contracting breast cancer.
Some common risk factors for the disease are:
- Personal history: Women who have a history of breast cancer are at a greater risk for a recurrence.
- Family history: Women with a family history of breast cancer run a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.
- Aging: Older women are at a higher risk for contracting the disease.
- High breast density: Women with highly fibrous breast tissue are at a greater risk for developing breast cancer.
- Having your first child after age 35.
However, women who have any or all of these risk factors may not necessarily develop breast cancer. Conversely, women who do not have any of these risk factors may also contract the disease. Breast cancer can strike any woman, virtually at any age.
The good news is that if is detected and diagnosed early enough, breast cancer is highly treatable.
Breast Cancer Research
The medical community has made major strides in the areas of breast cancer causes, prevention, detection, and treatment.
Breast cancer research falls into two main categories: observational and randomized controlled trials. The goal of both types of research is to prove or disprove a medically-developed hypothesis. The main difference lies in how each study is conducted.
Observational trials are just that: a medical professional observes a group of patients going about their daily lives as they normally would. Observational trials may involve a prospective cohort, or large group of people who are observed for an extended period of time. Part of the group will be given an exposure; the others will not.
Doctors will then observe the changes (or not) that may occur in the individuals who have been given the added element and the results will be compared. In an observational case-controlled study, doctors will compare patients with breast cancer of varying stages and healthy patients and document the activity of the respective group.
Randomized controlled trials involve a randomly selected group of patients participating in various actions—perhaps trying a new exercise, making a certain change in their diets, or taking a new type of medication—to measure the outcome.
Patients who wish to participate in breast cancer research can ask their doctor for a list of current clinical trials accepting participants or search for breast cancer clinical trials online.