With the ubiquitousness of pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness walks and fun runs, it might seem like the general public is educated about the disease. The fact is, there are always new studies, treatments and research breakthroughs to monitor and dangerous misconceptions to counter.
Breast cancer is still a fearsome, deadly disease, but more women are winning the battle against it. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 40,290 women died from breast cancer in the United States in 2015. A more positive spin on that statistic is that there were 231,840 invasive cases of breast cancer in American women in 2015, so many women are surviving the battle.
The most recent state-by-state statistics provided by the ACS are from 2008 to 2012. In Louisiana, the highest rates of incidence and mortality for breast cancer were for non-Hispanic African-Americans (130 cases and 34.8 deaths per 100,000 women). The numbers for non-Hispanic white women were 121.2 cases and 21.9 deaths per 100,000. For Hispanics, it was 86.8 and 9.7.
Dr. Robert Nickelson, an oncologist at Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in Shreveport, said there are a few exciting areas of research in breast cancer. One is that the use of bone building drugs like XGEVA can reduce bone-related complications in patients with metastatic breast cancer.
Secondly, more progress has been made in genetic research. Angelina Jolie made news in 2013 for electing to have a double mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which is linked to breast cancer. Recently, scientists discovered that the PALB2 gene also increased the risk for the disease.
Lastly, new strides have been made in immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. The medication IBRANCE inhibits cells from dividing and Opdivo causes cancer cells to enter into a programmed cell death.
Nickelson said he still hears dangerous misconceptions about mammography’s relation to breast cancer. He has encountered patients with the disease who blame mammograms for it, using the fallacious argument that since they never had breast cancer before receiving mammograms, then they must have caused the cancer. Nickelson said this is completely false.
Regarding mammograms, many physicians will disagree on when women should first start getting them and how frequently they should get them.
Nickelson believes that a woman with no family history of cysts can safely begin mammograms at age 50. However, those with family histories of breast cancer should start 10 years before the onset age of the family member’s cancer (i.e. if your mother had breast cancer at age 55, you should get a mammogram at 45). Women of all ages should get any mass on a breast evaluated. “Better safe than sorry” is the attitude to adopt here because like all cancer, breast cancer is most treatable when detected early.
“If a woman of any age has a mass (on her breast), it needs to be evaluated,” says Nickelson.
Support Groups – Survive Dat – survivedat.org
Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs – louisianacancer.org/breastcancer
Susan G. Komen Chapter- komenneworleans.org, komennorthlouisiana.org, komenbatonrouge.org
Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program – lcccp.org/breast
American Cancer Society – cancer.org
Breast cancer.org – breastcancer.org