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New Breast Cancer Research Brings Mixed ┆ Women's Health

SUMMARY:A new genetic test for breast cancer may help predict aggressive cases, while mammography proves to reduce deaths by half; however, a new study also shows that targeted raditation therapy increases the need for a mastectomy.

The latest breast cancer research reveals promise in detection methods and treatment, but also warns of the dangers of faster treatment options for those diagnosed with an early stage of the disease.

First, a new genetic test from Genomic Health can help predict aggressive cases of breast cancer, which could save countless women from undergoing unnecessary radiation. In addition, mammograms have been found to cut the disease by nearly half, while modern chemotherapy drugs have been shown to be cutting breast cancer deaths by about one-third. However, concerns have risen over the effectiveness and safety of a faster form of radiation therapy that is growing in popularity among women with early-stage breast cancer.

The study on the new gene test has just been released at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. According to lead researcher Lawrence Solin, chairman of radiation oncology at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, the test analyzes 12 genes found in breast cancer tumors, to aid in predicting those most likely to be an aggressive form requiring both surgery and radiation treatment, and tumors more likely to be slow-growing, which would require only the need to undergo surgery.

The use of the test could help more than 45,000 U.S. women annually who are diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, (DCIS), tumors confined to the milk ducts that could potentially spread into the remainder of the breast. These tumors are considered by some doctors to be very early-stage breast cancers, while regarded by others as precancers. Women at low risk could be spared having to undergo time-consuming radiation treatments that can burn the skin and cause damage to underlying heart and lung tissue.

The study found that while 11 percent of women with DCIS fell into the high-risk category, with about 19 percent developing an invasive form of breast cancer with a decade, another 75 percent fell into the low-risk category, among whom, only 5 percent developed an invasive cancer within 10 years. Genomic Health aims to have the test available by the end of the year.

Among other breast cancer research, a new Dutch study suggests that an ounce of pain is worth a pound of prevention when it comes to getting routine mammograms.

The study findings showed that women who regularly have mammograms cut their risk of death from breast cancer by almost half. Regarding the study results, senior researcher Dr. Suzie Otto, of the department of public health at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands stated, “Our study adds further to the evidence that mammography screening unambiguously reduces breast cancer mortality.” She also noted that routine screening also reduced the likelihood of being diagnosed with an advanced cancer.

The study involved data on 755 patients who died from breast cancer between 1995 and 2003, as well as 3,739 control patients having similar age and other measures. Among those women with breast cancer, almost 30 percent of tumors were discovered at screening, while about 34 percent were found between screens. About 36 percent of these women had never had a mammogram. Advanced tumors were found in about 30 percent of women having never been screened, compared to little more than 5 percent of those who were screened.

Overall, women who had routine mammograms cut their risk of death due to breast cancer by 49 percent. However, the reduction in risk among women aged 70 to 75 was much greater, coming in at 84 percent. For younger women between the ages of 50 and 69, the risk reduction was 39 percent. The study appears online in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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