Thursday, September 1, 2011

Breast Cancer News Weekly Wrap-Up (Aug. 28 to Sept. 1)

What's new in breast cancer news? Today we'll share the week's headlines and the studies behind them.

US News and World Report: "Some Older Breast Cancer Patients Can Skip Hormone Therapy: Study"

This headline sounds encouraging. For hormone receptor positive breast cancer, hormonal therapy is typically prescribed for five years and associated with unpleasant side effects. Who wouldn't want to skip it?

However, there is some fine print. (Links to the US News and World Report/HealthDay story, the underlying study and related Memo to the Media may be found on the Arimidex (anastrozole) page of our website.)

The August 31 Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) study evaluated mortality (death) rates for women in Denmark with early-stage, node-negative, hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. Women over 60, with small tumors (up to 10mm), who received no hormonal therapy or chemotherapy were not at an increased risk of death compared with women the same age in the general population.

In an accompanying editorial, the authors noted that even if there is no benefit in terms of mortality, hormonal therapy reduces the risk of recurrence in the same or opposite breast, and many "will continue to take it for that reason." (See the JNCI Memo to the Media under the News tab.)

For women in this subset, this study is another factor to be considered in the decision on whether to take hormonal therapy. According to the Memo to the Media, "patient preferences regarding risks and benefits play a critical role" in the decision. In US News and World Report, Dr. Jennifer Griggs, a study co-author, suggested a three month trial of hormone therapy to gauge side effects before deciding whether to continue.

Reuters: "New breast cancer gene may help predict risk"

The gene at issue, known as CHEK2, is not really new. The CHEK2 genetic test is available, but not generally offered. Instead, BRCA 1/2 genetic tests are typically used to assess hereditary risk. (More on the test and links to the study and story below may be found on the CHEK 2 gene testing page of our website.)

The August 29 Journal of Clinical Oncology study from Poland estimated breast cancer risk in women with CHEK2 mutations and family histories of breast cancer. Baseline lifetime risk was assumed to be 6%. Women with a CHEK2 mutation and no family history had an estimated lifetime risk of 20%. Risk increased with family history. A second-degree relative with breast cancer raised the risk to 28%, one first-degree relative to 34% and both a first- and second-degree relative to 44%.

An August 29 story in Reuters noted that the study may not be "ready for prime time yet." According to Reuters, Dr. James P. Evans, editor-in-chief of Genetics in Medicine, called the study a "nice start," but said it would be "premature" to recommend CHEK2 testing for everyone with a family history now. Dr. Diana Petitti, of Arizona State University in Phoenix, said the study is "an important breakthrough," but more research is needed, noting that "this is a field where replication is critical."

One of the concerns is that the Polish women in the study may be different than Americans. In America, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 12% (1 in 8). According to the study authors, that number is only about 6 percent in Poland. "Breast Cancer Risk Drops When Diet Includes Walnuts, Researchers Find"

A recent study in Nutrition and Cancer found that walnut consumption reduced breast cancer risk in mice. Study leader Elaine Hardman, Ph.D was quoted in to say, "The results of this study indicate that increased consumption of walnut could be part of a healthy diet and reduce risk for cancer in future generations." (Link on the the Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts page of our website.)

Animals studies such as this one are often interesting, but the applicability in humans has not yet been proven in human trials.

Toronto Sun: "Smoking after menopause could increase risk for breast cancer: Study"

This week, the Toronto Sun, US News and World Report/HealthDay and WebMD covered an August 10 study in The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism which found higher androgen and estrogen levels in smokers.

According to the study, because hormone levels dropped with smoking cessation, "hormone related disease risks could potentially be modified by changing smoking habits."

Next week, we'll share the latest research on soy for breast cancer survivors. Until then, all the latest news and research on any breast cancer test or treatment option may be found on the treatment pages of the website.


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