Breast cancer advances

If you or a loved one is dealing with breast cancer, recent developments can help

This week, and every week hereafter, 407 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and another 100 will die of the disease. Difficult facts to hear, especially given the decades of fundraising and research dedicated to eradicating breast cancer. Yet, these heroic efforts have reaped results: incidence rates for breast cancer have stabilized since 1993 and death rates have declined steadily since 1990. And every day, research and breast cancer organizations are delivering new insights on how to prevent and treat the disease more successfully, as well as introducing new support networks to nurture women undergoing treatment. Here are five advances that I’m particularly excited about:

More support for women of all ages
Research suggests that younger breast cancer survivors (those under 50) tend to experience more emotional complications than older survivors. All the more reason to applaud
Rethink Breast Cancer for launching their Young Survivor Bulletin Board. “Young survivors face unique challenges in terms of treatment, childcare issues, financial obstacles and family support,” says Rethink’s director of marketing and communication, Alison Gordon Farber. “Our bulletin board gives a voice to this marginalized group within the breast cancer community.” For more support resources for women of any age, such as Willow in Toronto or Hope & Cope in Montreal, visit our list of Breast Cancer Resources.

Safer and more effective drugs
Aromatase inhibitors—a new class of drugs that includes exemestane, letrozole and anastrozole—may reduce the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence in some women more effectively than tamoxifen alone, reports Mark Witten in the September issue of Chatelaine. Because aromatase inhibitors halt estrogen production, they’re particularly appropriate for post-menopausal women with early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer and those at risk of blood clots or endometrial cancer. Your doctor can tell you whether these new drugs are right for you, or whether tamoxifen alone is still the best option.

Treatment decisions made easier
Ontario scientists have developed decision aids to help early detected breast cancer patients choose between different treatments, such as mastectomy or breast-sparing surgery. Research conducted by Timothy Whelan and his colleagues at the
Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ont., found that the aids increased patients’ knowledge retention and satisfaction. The aids are already being used in Hamilton area hospitals. To maximize care and decision-making while undergoing breast cancer treatment, read Your cancer team, Get more from your doctors and Breast cancer resources.

A greater emphasis on prevention
While researchers continue to examine new treatments and potential cures for breast cancer, scientists are devoting more time to determine which lifestyle choices can lower the risk of developing tumours in the first place. For example, the
American Cancer Society recently reported that women who gained 21 to 30 pounds after age 18 were 40 per cent more likely to get post-menopausal breast cancer than women who gained five pounds or less. Researchers also conclude that regular exercise can lower breast-cancer risk and may extend survival in women with the disease. For more information on healthy eating and incorporating fitness into your day, check out The Feel-Good Diet and our 12-week walking program.

A greater understanding of how to buoy up loved ones
A study led by Dr. Julie Reynolds of the
Oregon Health & Science University in Portland recently identified that support can be helpful or harmful to women battling breast cancer, depending on the type of support offered and the individual’s needs. Dr. Reynolds says some women want reassurance, others want to act normal or receive information on how to deal with cancer, while others just need to vent without getting advice. To making sure you’re giving-or getting-the right kind of support, read How to help a loved one and Coping with your emotions.

More fundraising options than ever
Visit any Cineplex Odeon or Galaxy Cinema during the month of October and a portion from the sale of any movie ticket and Pink Ribbon combo purchased will be donated to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF). Look also in the October and November issues of Chatelaine for an exclusive coupon allowing readers to buy one adult admission and get another free. (The coupon is valid at participating Cineplex Odeon and Galaxy cinemas in Canada after 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays between October 4 and November 3, 2004.)

Another way to help
Purchase a Look Good Feel Better T-shirt for $15 at Shoppers Drug Mart stores across Canada from September 27 to October 3. Proceeds go to
Look Good Feel Better, the national cancer support program that helps Canadian women face the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.