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.
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.
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.
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.