Women’s Health

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby…

pink-ribbonEvery October, we see pink…literally. We don pink ribbons, buy pink-colored products and support numerous charity runs with pink logos. We do this to raise awareness and continue the fight against the second leading cause of cancer death in women – breast cancer.

Has this made a difference? According to the recent breast cancer research data, you bet it has!

“The progress we’ve made over the last 20 years has changed the face of the disease for American women,” says Freya Schnabel, M.D., director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. “We can find it earlier, treat it more effectively, reduce recurrence and enhance survival.”

And additional breakthroughs are helping doctors cure more women everyday!

Breast fluids, including breast milk, may reveal your chances of developing cancer. Nipple fluid is especially telling because it contains cells from the mammary glands, where approximately 95 percent of all breast cancers originate. A procedure called ductal lavage is already available to high-risk women, and tests for the general population are on the horizon, including an at-home risk kit, according to Susan Love, M.D., the president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

A diagnostic test called nanotechnology is also being studied. This technology uses zero radiation and, unlike mammography, has no risk of false positives. According to test pioneer Edward R. Flynn, Ph.D., chief scientist of the Senior Division, Manhattan Scientifics Inc., this test is 1,000 times more sensitive than a mammogram, and consequently, has the potential to catch breast cancer approximately two and a half years earlier than a mammogram. This test could be available within three to five years.

Better risk-reducing drugs are also being developed. Recent findings show that a drug called exemestane decreased the incidence of breast cancer by 65 percent in post-menopausal women at high risk for the disease. Exemestane, similar to tamoxifen, which as been the gold standard drug used to help prevent breast cancer for the past 10 years, works by decreasing the amount of estrogen produced by the body. But, unlike tamoxifen, exemestane doesn’t increase the likelihood of developing blood clots and uterine cancer.

Also, therapy regimens are more fine-tuned to the patient’s unique needs. Today, new tests are helping doctors better match patients with treatments that will work best for them and their particular type of cancer.  According to Laura J. Esserman, M.D., director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, there are at least three, if not more, different breast cancer diseases. “We have to treat patients according to their tumor type,” she explains.

And soon, the fairly grueling five-to-seven-week course of daily radiation may be shorter and safer, consequently, causing fewer harsh side effects. Recent trials have indicated that using half as many radiation treatments is just as effective as the full regimen.

So, yes, we’ve come a long way baby. But, we still have miles to go. Crossing the finish line will require our persistent involvement.

So, as you move into October, the month of pink, play a part in the fight by continuing to create awareness and promoting breast health. Here are some simple ways you can make a difference.

First and foremost, be informed. One out of eight women in the U.S. will have invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, and each year, 40,000 women die from it. Learn about your personal risk, talk to your doctor, participate in clinical trials and sign up for alerts from organizations that focus on preventing breast cancer.

Be proactive. Early detection is the key to becoming a breast cancer survivor. Schedule a mammogram. If you can’t afford one, check out the clinics in your area, many will be offering free mammograms this month.

Encourage friends and family to get screened. This shows them that you care about their health and that you’re doing your part to help find a cure for breast cancer.

Participate in all things pink in your area…from wearing the symbolic pink looped ribbon, patronizing local businesses that offer “eat and drink pink,” with a portion of the proceeds going towards a particular breast cancer foundation, sharing information on social media, participating in a local fundraising walk or run, creating your own fundraiser to volunteering your time.

Whatever you decide to do this October, to show your support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, your efforts can make a difference.