One in eight American females is projected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Seventy-five percent of breast cancer patients have no identifiable risk factor aside from gender. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is appropriate to consider what one can do to prevent breast cancer and facilitate early diagnosis.
Many cancers are preventable through lifestyle choices. It is known that regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer as does post-menopausal estrogen hormone therapy. Maintenance of a healthy weight and regular exercise reduces breast cancer risk. Furthermore, for those at higher risk there are medications such tamoxifen and raloxifene (Evista) that can significantly reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Particularly important is regular screening with mammography beginning at age 40 and repeated annually for those with average risk, which includes most of the women who ultimately develop breast cancer. Cure and long-term survival is substantially improved when breast cancer is diagnosed early.
A woman should be aware of her breasts and note changes such as development of a mass, tenderness, and nipple discharge or swelling. Any changes should be evaluated by a physician promptly. At Phoebe Cancer Center, we prefer to see cancer prevented through lifestyle choices and when appropriate for high-risk women, medications. However, when breast cancer does develop and is diagnosed in the earliest stages cure rates are quite high.
Treatments for breast cancer continue to evolve and improve. We now have molecularly-targeted treatments which have prolonged survival and increased cure rates for certain types of breast cancers. Breast cancer is not a single disease and one treatment for every cancer is no longer appropriate. The genetic makeup of the cancer determines its responsiveness to specific targeted medications which are increasingly becoming available through pharmaceutical research. These new developments are increasing survival and improving the quality of life for breast cancer patients.
Phillip L. Roberts, M.D.