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What’s Hot in Breast Cancer Prevention

Top four headlines in 2009

Focused on Health - October 2009

By Rachel Winters

Breast cancer news is everywhere -- especially during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Study results and “new” ways to prevent breast cancer are in magazines, journals, newspapers and online. All of these alerts can be helpful, but they also can be overwhelming.

You need to consider the source when you read or hear about any new ideas or studies in cancer prevention. If your information comes from something you read, look to see where the reporters got their information. If the report was on television or radio, you will want to know if the news was reviewed by a doctor. If your information is from a commercial, an infomercial or a friend, look for more reliable sources to back it up.

Below are some recent headlines in breast cancer prevention from trusted sources. Along with each are tips on what you can do to make these changes a part of your daily life.

1.       Study shows mammography reminders work

The American Cancer Society reports that many women age 40 and older are still not getting their mammogram every year. Only half of women are being tested.

A new study printed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that women who have a reminder system to alert them about an upcoming appointment are more likely to get the test. What seemed to work best for women in the study was a postcard, followed by a phone call from the doctor’s office.

Researchers hope that these study results will encourage doctors’ offices to start sending out more reminders. They also hope that women will do more to remind themselves of an upcoming appointment.

What you can do: Mammograms can save lives. If more women got tested for breast cancer, less may die from this disease every year. 

M. D. Anderson recommends that women get this test once a year beginning at age 40.

Here are some helpful reminders that can help you keep that next appointment. Make an appointment for your next mammogram right after you complete the last one. Most doctors’ offices will call and remind you, but you also can request that they do so when you make your appointment. Another idea – leave brightly colored post-it notes (we like pink!) in your datebook or on your calendar as an extra reminder. Get your family involved. Ask a friend or family member to help you remember.

Read more about mammography reminders

2.       Migraines may lower breast cancer risk

The American Association for Cancer Research recently published news about migraine headaches and breast cancer. The research showed that women with a history of migraine headaches have a 26% lower risk of getting breast cancer than women who don’t have migraines. About 9,000 women joined this study that looked at the role hormones play in breast cancer and migraines. The idea behind the study is that low levels of estrogen can cause migraines. Breast cancer risks can increase with high estrogen levels.

What you can do: Next time your head starts to pound, take comfort. These study results suggest that women who get these painful headaches may be less likely to get breast cancer.

There’s not much that you can do about migraines and breast cancer risk. But, there are other factors related to hormones and breast cancer that you can control. Research shows that women who take hormones  to treat menopause symptoms have a higher chance of getting breast cancer. If you are taking hormones, speak with your doctor about how it affects your chances for breast cancer. Get informed to make wise decisions about your health.

Read more about how migraines might lower breast cancer risk

3.       Living near a mammography unit may improve outcomes

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, women who live near places where they can get a mammogram are more likely to get one. Research showed that women who live in counties with a mammography facility are three times more likely to have gotten tested for breast cancer in the past two years than women who don’t have a local screening center. In addition, research done by   M. D. Anderson shows that women have a 64% lower chance of having late stage breast cancer if they live close to locations that provide mammograms.

This is important because fewer than 30% of women with late stage breast cancer will survive for longer than five years.

"Breast cancer is a fatal disease for most women if it's diagnosed at a late stage," says Linda S. Elting, Dr.P.H., a professor of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson.

What you can do: Don’t let distance get in the way of your health. No mammography facility in your area? Make an appointment with a friend, or group of friends, and plan an annual road trip. Also, look out for mobile mammography vans that might be coming to your area. If you are not sure where the closest place to get a mammogram is, call 1-800-4-CANCER for help. Also, your local doctor might have a great idea about how to get screened regularly, so don’t forget to ask!

Read more about how living near a mammography center may improve outcomes

4.       Walking can decrease the odds of getting breast cancer twice  

A new study in the Journal of American Medical Association followed almost 3,000 women for up to 14 years after their breast cancer diagnosis. The research showed that exercise lowered the chances of a woman’s breast cancer from coming back by 40%. Exercise also increased the women’s chances of living a longer life.

To get enough exercise to reduce the chances breast cancer returning, women should walk briskly – about three miles per hour on a treadmill – three to five hours a week. They also can do other types of exercise that are similar to speed walking, such as swimming or using an elliptical machine.

What you can do: While this tip is for women who have already had breast cancer, exercise can reduce breast cancer risks for all women. Research shows that obesity increases cancer risks. Exercise is one of the best ways to lose weight or to stay at your healthy weight. You don’t, however, need to suddenly start running marathons. Find an activity that you enjoy and get moving. If you have never had breast cancer, find time to fit in 45 to 60 minutes five days a week of an activity that makes your heart pump faster. Being active will help you to keep an ideal body weight, boost your spirits and reduce your breast cancer risks.

Read more about walking and the return of breast cancer

It is important to stay informed. But, make sure you get your news from a trusted source. Just because something is in the news, doesn’t mean it is correct. Take the time to investigate the facts before diving into the latest trend in breast cancer prevention.

Related Links

Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer (American Cancer Society)

2009 Press Releases (M. D. Anderson)

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines (M. D. Anderson)

Breast Awareness (M. D. Anderson)

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Breast cancer news for 2009. Learn about the hot topics in breast cancer research, and about how to get your information from trusted sources.

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center