What Will You Do Differently During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

October is NBCAM. Will you squeeze in anything new?

pink ribbon

HEALTH Is this the month you, as a woman, perform your annual breast self-examination (BSE)? Does October herald a reminder to schedule the mammogram you've been putting off all year? Are some healthy lifestyle changes swirling around in your head? Is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) just an occasion to wear more pink apparel?

There are no shortage of NBCAM suggestions on the Web, social media, even here, throughout this website. (See sidebar: More ClinicalPosters.com Articles) Diet, exercise, monthly BSE and regular checkups are preventative measures. But some people have more concerns because of a family disposition or may even be coping with a recent diagnosis. In such situations, one may ponder not just prevention, but also treatment options.

Progress In Cancer Care

Scientists are working to alter communication between tumors and surrounding cells.

In the late 1800s there were some radical ideas about breast cancer treatment. Along with the entire breast, the lymph nodes, underlying muscle, and in some cases, even an arm was removed without anesthesia. During the 1960s surgeons focused on removing just the tumor and systemically treating residual cancer with chemotherapy or radiation. The 1990s saw success with a gene therapy drug called Herceptin. Today, scientists are working to alter communication between tumors and surrounding cells, in effect, starving the cancer of nutrients it needs to grow and halting the spread throughout the body.

Some researchers are reevaluating ideas that have been dismissed over the past forty years: Perhaps trauma to the breast can spur cancer; an infection might ignite cancer cells; a weakened immune system might allow cancer to spread. Researchers are also investigating mysteries like why the breast cancer rate plummeted when women stopped taking menopausal hormones. One answer may be that hormone therapy changes normal breast cells and may allow a number of tiny tumors to escape from milk ducts where breast cancer starts. [1] None of this is conclusive but it demonstrates the open minded approach in current research.

Clinical Trial for Early-Stage Breast Cancer

Locally advanced breast cancer

A 5-year phase III clinical trial using a drug called metformin versus placebo is underway for nondiabetic women younger than age 75 who have undergone surgery to remove their tumor in early-stage breast cancer (CAN-NCIC-MA.32). Metformin (Glucophage) has been used for decades to treat people with diabetes. Researchers have discovered that diabetics taking metformin are less likely to develop cancer or die from the disease than diabetics who do not take metformin. In addition, women with early-stage breast cancer taking metformin for diabetes have higher response rates to presurgical, or neoadjuvant, therapies than diabetic patients not taking metformin or patients without diabetes. Recent results of studies in women with breast cancer who are waiting for surgery have shown that metformin may slow tumor cell growth. These observations have suggested that metformin may be helpful in preventing recurrences in women treated for early-stage breast cancer. [2]

Five-Year Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Stage Survival Rate
0 93%
I 88%
IIA 81%
IIB 74%
IIIA 67%
IIIB 41%
IIIC 49%
IV 15%
While these numbers provide an overall picture, keep in mind that every woman is unique and the statistics can't predict exactly what will happen in your case. The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is found. Of course, many people live much longer than 5 years. Also, people with cancer can die from other things, and these numbers do not take into account the fact that some of the deaths are from causes other than breast cancer. These numbers come from the National Cancer database, and are based on people who were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and 2002. Because we now find more cancers early and use newer, better treatments, prognosis is improving. ~American Cancer Society

Where Do You Go From Here

Breast Cancer Facts & Fitures 2011-12

The answer depends on who you are. If you are a physician, can you adjust your office telephone message to include information about breast cancer awareness? Other suggestions are available on the NBCAM website. [3] make certain your patients know how to perform a BSE. Anatomy posters with BSE instructions are available. Just search keyword "NBCAM" at Store.ClinicalPosters.com. Follow ClinicalPosters on Twitter (hashtags: #NBCAM or #BCA) for updates on breast health from a variety of sources.

An immune system is strengthened by healthy diet and exercise. Speak with your healthcare provider familiar with your family history. Learn the proper technique for performing a breast self examination and get in the habit of doing it monthly. Depending upon your age and other factors, you may require a mammogram. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, financial assistance is available. [4,5] Susan G. Komen for the Cure has activities planned for each day during October. [6] Locate a support group, find a clinical trial, join a race, share an inspiring story or help fund the end of breast cancer.

You can change your diet or buy some pink tennis shoes and begin a routine of daily power walks. With so much to do, don't do nothing. Resolve to educate yourself. Learn how to take care of your breasts and live longer. Make this month different from all others. Change your life, or someone else's, for the better.

Tags: mammary glands, goals, precancer, mastectomy, oncologist, oncology

References
  1. Old Ideas Spur New Approaches in Cancer Fight. nytimes.com
  2. Metformin to Treat Early-Stage Breast Cancer. cancer.gov
  3. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. nbcam.org
  4. Sources of Financial Assistance. cancercare.org
  5. Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent - Other Places To Get Help. everydayhealth.com
  6. Susan G. Komen for the Cure. ww5.komen.org
  7. Breast Cancer Awareness. cdc.gov
  8. Not every body has cancer cells. ccmr.cornell.edu
  9. The stages of breast cancer. breast diagram from faslodex.com
  10. Blog icon photo by Dave Ward. bingeandpurge at deviantart.com