Now that it is October, events are being held around the world to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2015. This annual campaign includes events held by thousands of organizations, all hoping to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education, and research.
Regular breast self-exams are crucial, but many people are unaware of how to perform them, and this information is promoted widely during October. The initiative is also about increasing fundraising efforts for breast cancer research through campaigning and collecting, as well as a wide range of fundraising events.
One in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but when it is detected early in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 100%. There are likely to be 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2015.
Although high, diagnosis rates are falling, perhaps due to a drop in the use of hormone therapy following research results that suggested a link with breast cancer. Mortality rates are also falling, due to a combination of improved treatment, wider screening, and increased awareness.
A small proportion - approximately 5% to 10% - of breast cancers are linked to inherited gene mutations, most commonly of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Women carrying a BRCA1 mutation have a 55% to 65% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, and for a BRCA2 mutation, the lifetime risk is 45%. These patients tend to be younger than those without a gene mutation and are also at a raised risk of ovarian cancer. For men, BRCA1 mutations are rare cause of breast cancer, and BRCA2 mutations bring a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 7%.
The majority (85%) of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease. These cases are believed to be triggered by genetic mutations due to the aging process and lifestyle factors which are currently the subject of research projects around the world.
Current areas of interest include the effect of exercise, weight gain or loss, and diet. Because the human genome was mapped out, efforts to understand the genetic links to breast cancer have become slightly easier. Another research topic is the use of novel radiation methods, as well as novel chemotherapy drugs that target cancers caused by BRCA mutations. These drugs, called PARP inhibitors, have shown promising results in clinical trials of metastasized, drug-resistant breast cancers.
Another class of drugs that is under investigation includes the drugs targeting excess HER2 protein, a gene change that can encourage cancerous cells to grow. A study from Italy has found that pertuzumab, a novel anti-HER2 antibody, was effective for some patients with HER2-positive, early-stage breast cancer. Dr Luca Gianni and his team at the San Raffaele Cancer Center in Milan, say the addition of pertuzumab to the standard therapy, trastuzumab, boosted the rate of complete tumour disappearance by more than half after just four cycles (12 weeks) of treatment. This approach also led to tumor eradication in 17% of patients without giving chemotherapy, "one of the highest reported [tumor] responses to date", say the team.
Drugs that can halt blood vessels that feed cancer cells are also under investigation. These "anti-angiogenesis" drugs are now being tested in clinical trials. Further drugs that help hormone therapy work more effectively are also being tested. One of these drugs, everolimus, is approved for breast cancer in postmenopausal women with advanced hormone-receptor positive, HER2-negative type cancer.
In order to improve the nation's fitness, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy has called on people to make walking a priority in their lives. Community leaders must work to make their outdoor spaces more walkable, stressed Dr. Murthy in a September 2015 statement. "Everyone deserves to have a safe place to walk or wheelchair roll," he said. "But in too many of our communities, that is not the reality." His report covers the many health benefits of walking, which include a reduction on the risk for cancer. Adults are recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week.
Information from the National Breast Cancer Foundation
U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics
What`s new in breast cancer research?
Gianni, L. et al. Efficacy and safety of neoadjuvant pertuzumab and trastuzumab in women with locally advanced, inflammatory, or early HER2-positive breast cancer (NeoSphere): a randomised multicentre, open-label, phase 2 trial. Gianni, L. et al. The Lancet Oncology December 7 2011, doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70336-9
Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities
Information from the American Cancer Society for Health Care Professionals