Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Breast Cancer News Update: July 12

Today in breast cancer news, we'll discuss alcohol and breast cancer risk, increased risk of blood diseases after radiation therapy and survivor awareness of diagnosis and treatments received. As always, all of the news and research discussed below can be found on the relevant pages of the LATESTBreastCancer.com website.

No amount of alcohol safe when it comes to breast cancer risk

Back in early May, the Cancer Council Australia increased its estimates of the number of breast cancers caused by alcohol. The Council's chief executive, Ian Olver, told the Sydney Morning Herald that although the National Health & Medical Research Council still recommended alcohol be taken in moderation,

[P]eople should also be told there was no evidence of a safe alcohol dose below which cancer-causing effects did not occur - either from direct DNA damage, increased oestrogen levels or excessive weight gain. ''If you want to reduce your cancer risk as far as possible [abstinence] would be the option you have,'' he said.

Well, it's not just Australians who recommend no alcohol to lower breast cancer risk. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported on an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, in which French researchers cautioned health authorities "against telling consumers that any amount of drinking is truly safe, at least, when it comes to cancer risk." According to the authors,

It can be concluded that there is no level of alcohol consumption for which the cancer risk is null. . . Thus, for cancer prevention, the consumption of alcoholic beverages should not be recommended.

Some women treated with radiation may have an increased risk of blood diseases

According to a story in HemOnc Today, some women younger than 65 treated with radiation for breast cancer may be at an increased risk of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML), two blood disorders. (For more on myelodysplastic syndrome, please see the National Cancer Institute overview.) Although breast cancer patients were four times more likely to be diagnosed with MDS or AML than non-patients, the overall risk only affected a small percentage of patients (0.29%). Among patients, women younger than 65 and those who were treated with surgery and radiation or surgery, radiation and chemotherapy had a higher risk than those treated with surgery and chemotherapy with no radiation. Overall, 30% of the MDS cases and 71% of the AML cases were fatal.

Not all breast cancer survivors are aware of their diagnosis details or treatment history

Because I work in the medical information field, the breast cancer patients I meet are typically very aware of the details of their diagnosis. I was surprised to read a recent study in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship (see the Adriamycin link below) which found that 40% of breast cancer survivors were unable to identify the stage of their disease. 7% did not know if they had positive nodes and 42% did not know their estrogen or progesterone receptor status.

It's very important for survivors to be aware of the breast cancer treatments they received. Future health care providers will need to know if a patient has previously been treated with drugs such as Adriamycin (doxorubicin) or tamoxifen. According to the study, only 43% of those treated with Adriamycin could correctly identify it. Fortunately, more than 90% of those on tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors could identify the correct drug. This may be because hormone treatment typically lasts for five years. Logically, accurate recollection of diagnosis and treatment declined with patient age.

The study authors suggest written treatment summaries to help cancer patients obtain the best future medical care.

Please check back tomorrow for more breast cancer news and research updates.

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