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Rays of hope brighten breast cancer outlook

» For postmenopausal women

» For women with early-stage breast cancer

» For women undergoing breast cancer treatment

To lower risk, lose excess weight

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Even postmenopausal women can reduce their breast cancer risk by losing weight, say researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who analyzed data on 87,000 postmenopausal women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study. Your best bet for avoiding breast cancer, says the study author, is to maintain a healthy weight throughout adulthood. So, if you’re overweight or obese, those unwanted pounds are not just a vanity issue. Persevering to shed excess weight will help you live a longer and healthier life.

Scientists worldwide are relentlessly searching for ways to beat breast cancer, which will claim the lives of more than 40,000 American women this year. The recent findings that follow are a few of the new tools doctors have to fight one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women.

For postmenopausal women

The osteoporosis drug raloxifene works as well as tamoxifen, an estrogen-blocking drug, in reducing breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, according to recent findings from the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene. What’s more, of the nearly 20,000 women who took part in the study, those who took raloxifene daily for an average of four years had 36 percent fewer uterine cancers and 29 percent fewer blood clots than women who took tamoxifen. However, further studies are needed to determine whether raloxifene is as effective as tamoxifen in preventing recurrence of breast cancer in women treated with surgery or radiation.

For women with early-stage breast cancer

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are generally advised to have chemotherapy in addition to radiation and hormonal therapy. The catch? Chemotherapy may not benefit all these women, since some are more likely than others to develop a recurring tumor. Scientists are looking at a new test that will identify only those women likely to experience a recurrence, for whom chemotherapy makes sense—another step closer to more personalized cancer treatment. Thus, women who won’t benefit from chemotherapy won’t have to suffer its side effects such as nausea and vomiting, hair loss and fatigue. The recently launched study, involving 10,000 women throughout the United States and Canada, is called Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (Rx), or TAILORx.

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in the cells that line the milk ducts (ductal carcinoma in situ) are less likely to develop invasive breast cancer when an additional, or booster, dose of radiation therapy follows treatment with surgery and radiation, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology journal. Better screening methods have helped identify more women with this early-stage cancer, so booster doses of radiation may save more lives.

For women undergoing breast cancer treatment

Exercise makes it easier to cope with the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, including weight gain or loss and nausea or vomiting, according to a new study published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer. Exercise also helps women function better—making it easier to climb a flight of stairs or walk a certain distance—a boon to all, but especially important for women with jobs or children or those who simply aren’t able to take it easy during cancer treatment. Related research reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows women whose armpit lymph nodes are removed can safely perform upper-body exercises—including weight training or simply picking up groceries or children—without worsening the painful swelling known as lymphedema.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media