10 Myths about Breast Cancer: October Awareness month

October has been Breast Cancer month for the last several years and has seen quite some attention based on statistical factors that every year about 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and around 40,000 women die each year.

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Myths and Misunderstandings around Breast cancer

October has been Breast Cancer month for the last several years and has seen quite some attention based on statistical factors that every year about 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and around 40,000 women die each year.

Although much effort has gone into early detection of breast cancer, no real dent has been made in the numbers stated above. There are several reasons we can point out why we don’t see much improvement in early detection and the treatment. Those reasons range from:

  • The ignorance of age
  • The questionable detection methods being used
  • The stagnation of technology
  • The awareness campaigns being promoted

Let’s first demystify some of the most common mistakes made.

Like all parts of your body, the cells in breasts usually grow and then rest in cycles. The periods of growth and rest in each cell are controlled by genes in the cell’s nucleus. When your genes are in good working order, they keep cell growth under control. But when your genes develop an abnormality, they sometimes lose their ability to control the cycle of cell growth and rest.

Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. Cancer has the potential to break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body. While cancer is always caused by a genetic “abnormality” (a “mistake” in the genetic material), only 5-10% of cancers are inherited from your mother or father. Instead, 90% of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general. Misinformation can keep you from recognizing and minimizing your own risk of breast cancer or getting the very best possible care.

Here are some common myths about breast cancer:

1) Breast cancer only affects older women.
No. While it’s true that the risk of breast cancer increases as we grow older, breast cancer can occur at any age. From birth to age 39, one woman in 231 will get breast cancer (<0.5% risk); from age 40-59, the chance is one in 25 (4% risk); from age 60-79, the chance is one in 15 (nearly 7%). Assuming you live to age 90, the chance is one in 7, with an overall lifetime risk of 14.3%.

2) If you have a risk factor for breast cancer, you’re likely to get the disease.

No. Getting breast cancer is not a certainty, even if you have one of the stronger risk factors, like a breast cancer gene abnormality. Women with a inherited genetic abnormality, 60% won’t develop breastcancer at all. All other risk factors are associated with a much lower probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

3)  If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, you won’t get it.

No. Every woman has some risk of breast cancer. About 80% of women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Increasing age – just the wear and tear of living – is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer.

4) Only your mother’s family history of breast cancer can affect your risk.

No. A history of breast cancer in your mother’s OR your father’s family will influence your risk equally. That’s because half of your genes come from your mother, half from your father.

5) Birth control pills cause breast cancer.

No. Modern day birth control pills contain a low dose of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. They have not been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The higher-dose contraceptive pills used in the past were associated with a small increased risk, in only a few studies. Today’s birth control pills can provide some protection against ovarian cancer.

6) Eating high-fat foods causes breast cancer.

No. Several large studies have not been able to demonstrate a clear connection between eating high-fat foods and a higher risk of breast cancer. We can say that avoidance of high-fat foods is a healthy choice for other reasons: to lower the “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins), increase the “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins). Excess body weight, IS a risk factor for breast cancer, because the extra fat increases the production of estrogen outside the ovaries and adds to the overall level of estrogen in the body.

7) A monthly breast self-exam is the best way to diagnose breast cancer.

No. High quality, film-screen mammography is the most reliable way to find breast cancer as early as possible, when it is most curable. By the time a breast cancer can be felt, it is usually bigger than the average size of a cancer first found on mammography. About 25% of breast cancers are found only on breast examination (not on the mammogram), about 35% are found on mammography alone, and 40% are found by both physical exam and mammography. Keep both bases covered.

8.) I’m at high risk for breast cancer and there’s nothing I can do about it.

No. There are several effective ways to reduce-but not eliminate-the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk. Options include lifestyle changes (minimize alcohol consumption, stop smoking, exercise regularly), medication (tamoxifen, also called Nolvadex).

9) A breast cancer diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.

No. Fully 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no signs of metastases (no cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes). Furthermore, 80% of these women live at least five years, most longer, and many live much longer. Even women with signs of cancer metastases can live a long time. Plus promising treatment breakthroughs are becoming available each day.

10) Breast Cancer only occurs in women.

No. Increasingly breast cancer also occurs in men. Up until now the studies on breast cancer in men has been very limited and only indications about causes have been identified sofar. Without ultimate proof yet with some certainty chemical food and drink preservations and additives have been identified as possible causes of breast cancer development within men. Also vasectomies seem to play a role in a higher risk. We will dedicate a special article in the month of October to Breast Cancer in men.

Overview of Options

For every stage of breast cancer three broad types of treatment can be considered:

  1. Local/regional treatment is directed to the breast and to lymph nodes around the breast. Local treatment refers to surgical procedures and  radiation
  2. Systemic treatments are directed to the whole body or “system.” On which we will elaborate below.
  3. Alternative and Holistic Therapies are directed to the whole person, including mind and spirit as well as body.

There are four main types of systemic therapy:

A) Hormonal (anti-estrogen) therapies are medicines usually given by pill or, less commonly, by injection under the skin. These medications either

  1. reduce the amount of estrogen in your body, or
  2. block estrogen’s effects, in order to inhibit cancer cell growth throughout your body.

B) Chemotherapy are medicines given by pill or directly into the bloodstream (through a needle or port) that destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cells’ ability to reproduce and function from day to day.

C) Immune therapy is a very new area of medicine that attempts to use or imitate the body’s own system for fighting disease, to defeat the cancer. Currently, only one immune therapy, Herceptin, is available.

D) Anti-angiogenesis therapies halt the growth of new blood vessels that bring nutrients to the cancer cells-in other words, you “starve” the tumor of things it needs to grow and survive. Currently, these treatments are available only in clinical trials, on a very limited basis.

Hormonal Therapy

We will focus on the hormonal therapy because this is the area where the most recent mainstream changes have taken place and is used the most.

There are six major kinds of hormonal therapy. The first two types block estrogen’s ability to lock onto the estrogen receptor and turn on cell growth:

  • # SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators) such as tamoxifen block the estrogen receptor.
  • # ERDs (estrogen receptor downregulators), Faslodex¬† is the only one, destroy the estrogen receptor.

The other four kinds of hormonal therapy reduce the amount of estrogen in the body:

  • Aromatase inhibitors, In post-menopausal women, most of the body‚Äôs estrogen is made from another hormone, androgen. Aromatase inhibitors stop the enzyme called aromatase from turning androgen into estrogen. They include Arimidex (anastrozole), Femara (letrozole), and Aromasin (exemestane).
  • For pre-menopausal women, there are medicines that shut down the ovaries‚Äô production of estrogen, including Zoladex (goserelin) and Lupron (leuprolide).
  • Radiation to the ovaries can also stop their estrogen production.
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries dramatically lowers the amount of estrogen in the body.

But it can be difficult trying to decide which hormonal therapy to use first, whether to combine hormonal therapies, whether to switch from one to another, and whether you should start taking another medication after you finish a course of treatment with a first one. The most used medications are tamoxifen (known for 20 years) and more recent introduced the aromataseinhibitors. Until more complete information is available, here’s what the experts suggest for post-menopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive, early-stage breast cancer:

  • If you‚Äôve just had surgery, your best treatment option is probably an aromatase inhibitor. But if you can‚Äôt tolerate it or have other reasons for not taking it, take tamoxifen.
  • If you‚Äôve just finished taking tamoxifen and had node-positive breast cancer, strongly consider taking an aromatase inhibitor.
  • If you have taken tamoxifen for two or three years, strongly consider switching to an aromatase inhibitor until you complete five years of hormonal therapy.
  • If you can‚Äôt tolerate an aromatase inhibitor, take tamoxifen until you complete five years of hormonal therapy.

These choices also depend on the personal acceptance of the medications, your risk or tolerance for the specific side effects of these drugs.

Contribution by our Pharmacist Drs. Dick Luttekes (www.philipsburgparmacy.com)

Tomorrow: Breast Cancer from a Holistic point of view!

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  1. Janice

    One of the primary cause of cancer is bad cholesterol that's why there are so may products that offers natural cholesterol reducer well for me nothing would work unless you mix an exercise to your daily routine.

  2. tommylee

    Sorry but bad cholesterol is not a “PRIMARY” cause of cancer. It may be aiding in the formation but it is most certainly NOT a prime cause. Cancer is a degeneration of your immune system, either young in the form of juvenile cancers due to genetics and environmental causes or at the end of your lifespan.

  3. tommylee

    Sorry but bad cholesterol is not a “PRIMARY” cause of cancer. It may be aiding in the formation but it is most certainly NOT a prime cause. Cancer is a degeneration of your immune system, either young in the form of juvenile cancers due to genetics and environmental causes or at the end of your lifespan.

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