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Your breast health
From screening to survival, the latest breast cancer news

» Protecting yourself

» Better disease detection

» Tougher, tamer treatments

Due for a mammogram

Cancer experts worry about falling mammography rates and fear the trend may lead to a higher breast cancer death rate as a result of fewer tumors being caught at an earlier stage. Recent findings show that the number of women over age 40 who’ve had a mammogram in the past two years fell from 70 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2005. The American Cancer Society recommends all women over age 40 should have a yearly mammogram.

About 13 percent of women—or one in eight—will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Recent statistics show incidence rates have begun to fall, and more than 2 million Americans are alive today who have a history of breast cancer. We know a lot more than we used to about how to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer—and the research continues. Here’s a look at some of the latest findings:

Protecting yourself

  • Aspirin may help some women avoid recurrence. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that breast cancer survivors who took an aspirin once a week had a 20 percent reduced risk of the disease recurring compared with women who didn’t take aspirin. Women who took a daily aspirin enjoyed even greater protection. But because aspirin can cause serious side effects, including ulcers, don’t start an aspirin regimen without getting the go-ahead from your healthcare provider.
  • Drug therapy slashes disease rate. Two drugs, tamoxifen (Nolvadex) and raloxifene (Evista), significantly reduce breast cancer among high-risk women.
  • Cocktails boost cancer odds. Having as little as 10 grams (g) of alcohol a day (one drink contains about 15 g) can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by 10 percent.
  • Fiber betters your fortune. An increase of dietary fiber, especially with foods like cereals and fruit, was associated with a lower breast cancer risk in premenopausal women. Experts suggest eating between 20 and 30 grams of fiber a day.
  • Weight matters. A postmenopausal weight gain of 22 pounds can up breast cancer risk by 18 percent. Conversely, losing 22 pounds after menopause can drop the risk by 57 percent.

Better disease detection

Mammography remains the standard screening tool, but new and additional imaging techniques can benefit certain women, improving early detection and diagnosis.

  • Mammography goes digital. Digital mammography allows a radiologist to view the mammogram on a computer screen, adjust for the picture’s lightness or darkness and zoom in on certain areas, particularly helpful for women with dense breasts.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) checks suspicious findings. Because MRI creates detailed images of the breasts’ anatomy, it can investigate abnormal images found on a mammogram or when breast changes can be felt but not seen on a traditional mammogram. The American Cancer Society says high-risk women should have a yearly MRI in addition to a yearly mammogram.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) spots aggressive tumors. A PET scan is most useful for detecting large, aggressive tumors and evaluating and staging recurrent disease.

Tougher, tamer treatments

  • Smarter drugs. New agents, such as Herceptin, are better able to attack cancer cells while doing less harm to healthy tissues.
  • New radiation techniques. Researchers are working on treatments that involve placing tiny radioactive beads on the site where cancerous tissue was removed, reducing therapy duration to a few days.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media