Breast Cancer Awareness

October is breast cancer awareness month.

Today’s column will be little different. Read the question and ask yourself how much you know about breast cancer. Then read the answer and see if there is something new to absorb.

Q. How many women will develop breast cancer in the U.S.A, Canada and Australia?
A. In U.S.A., one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime compared to one in nine in Canada and one in 11 in Australia (TIME Magazine).

Q. Breast cancer rate in Palliser Health Region is higher than the provincial rate – true or false?
A. False. The incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer observed in our region are similar to the provincial rates (Cancer in Alberta 2005).

Q. What is the survival rate for women with early-stage breast cancer?
A. Nearly 98 per cent of women with early-stage breast cancer will live five years or more thanks to regular mammograms and improved treatments.

Q. What is Tamoxifen?
A. Tamoxifen is a drug which can lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 35 to 50 per cent. It reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence and the chance of a new breast cancer starting. It can stop the progression of breast cancer (breastcancer.org).

Q. What is Herceptin (trastuzumab)?
A. It is a drug approved for the treatment of women with advanced-staged breast cancer. It also helps women with early-staged breast cancer by reducing recurrence rate by 50 per cent (CMAJ, August 16, 2005).

Q. What is Femara (letrozole)?
A. It is used by post-menopausal women who have finished five years of tamoxifen therapy after breast cancer surgery. The drug significantly reduces both the recurrence of breast cancer and distant metastases (CMAJ, March 24, 2005).

Q. How can a woman reduce the risk of breast cancer?
A. Drink alcohol in moderation, avoid obesity (obese women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer), women at risk for breast cancer should avoid estrogen hormonal therapy, do regular breast self-examination, have regular mammograms, have your physician check your breast once a year at least.

Q. Is antibiotic use associated with an increased risk of breast cancer?
A. A study published in 2004 suggested that premenopausal women who used antibiotics for urinary tract infections had an elevated risk of breast cancer compared with women who did not use antibiotics. The authors concluded that additional studies are required before the implications for clinical practice are clear. So, the jury is still out (CMAJ, June 22, 2004).

Q. Is exercise effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women?
A. Several articles have been published showing an association between physical activity and breast cancer prevention in post-menopausal women. It also helps in the reduction of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (CMAJ March 2, 2004).

Q. How reliable is mammogram in detecting breast cancer?
A. Sensitivity of mammogram depends on several factors. Overall sensitivity of mammogram is 70 to 90 per cent. It is only about 50 per cent in women under the age of 40. Less than 0.5 per cent of women will be found to have breast cancer on screening mammogram. If mammogram picks up a suspicious lesion then the chances of it being cancer on biopsy will be 90 per cent (CMAJ, January 18, 2006).

Q. Why do 35 per cent of women with locally advanced breast cancer wait more than three months before seeking medical attention?
A. Fear, belief that symptoms might be benign, belief there was nothing to worry about because they did not have a family history of breast cancer and belief they were too young to get breast cancer were cited by one in three women who eventually came to the Toronto –based clinic (The Medical Post, January 10, 2006).

So, how did you do?

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