• Michael Misialek, MD

The Importance of Breast Cancer Prevention

In 2015 an expected 231,840 cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in women, along with 62,290 cases of non-invasive, or in-situ, breast cancer. About 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer. More than 40,000 women die yearly from breast cancer.

As a pathologist I diagnose breast cancer far too often. Even though there has been much progress in identifying risk factors for breast cancer, the majority of cases have no known risk factors or causes. As medical adviser to the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) I understand the importance of prevention. This is finally being recognized in the medical community.

A major prevention effort by the National Institutes of Health has been launched with the goal of identifying factors that lead to the development of breast cancer. It has been found that genetic testing could improve prevention. A recent study found that genetic screening for the major breast cancer gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2) but also lesser known variants, combined with known risk factors could improve the ability to identify women most at risk.

Risk factors studied include the following:

  • genetic profile

  • family history of breast cancer

  • age at menarche

  • number of births and age at first live birth

  • oral contraceptive use

  • combined menopausal hormone therapy use

  • body mass index [BMI]

  • alcohol consumption

  • smoking

  • history of benign breast disease

  • breast density

Exciting research has already identified gene variants that may predict who will benefit from breast cancer prevention drugs. Low doses of estrogen-like compounds (parabens), found in many personal care products, might increase breast cancer risk.

It doesn’t end with environmental contaminants. Diet has also been implicated in certain breast cancers. Recent research has show a link between sugar and breast cancer and risk of metastasis to the lungs. Sugar’s role in enzyme signaling pathways and the importance of inflammation in breast cancer has been uncovered.

In an effort to promote a better understanding of the importance of toxic exposures and breast cancer, the MBCC has launched the Let’s Talk Prevention: Reducing Toxic Exposures. The MBCC is helping facilitate the discussion between health professionals and patients about environmental exposures and chemicals of concern. Many chemicals of concern are industrial chemicals that do not stay isolated inside factories. Minimizing exposure to chemicals linked with negative health im­pacts can lessen the burden of disease and improve public health.

To make this important public health topic more palatable, MBCC has created a booklet for health professionals and a medical brochure for patients. These documents are available for download and are intended to be used in tandem.

As a health professional, the Let’s Talk Prevention: Re­ducing Toxic Exposures medical booklet provides providers with a wealth of resources to communicate with patients, evaluate and assess a patients’ exposure history, and further understand the effects and impact of common chemicals of concern.

For the informed patient, the Let’s Talk Prevention: Re­ducing Toxic Exposures brochure helps patients manage their toxic exposure risk. The medical brochure provides basic steps to reduce toxic exposures in the home and enables patients to choose safer alternatives to harmful products used daily.

The majority of breast cancer research has traditionally focused on treatment and screening while funding for prevention lags far behind. We have made great strides in our understanding of cancer at the genetic level. The precision medicine revolution has transformed how we treat cancer. While this is tremendous, far greater benefit in lives saved would be realized from efforts directed towards prevention. Additionally, the financial impact is also much greater. It is less expensive to keep a patient healthy and out of the hospital.

To download the Let’s Talk Prevention: Medical Booklet for Health Professionals and the Medical Brochure for patients, please visit the Let’s Talk Prevention Tab on the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition webpage:

There is reason for optimism. Research into prevention is gaining momentum. Help keep progress moving forward. Please consider helping support MBCC in its efforts to end the breast cancer epidemic.

About MBCC Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) is dedicated to preventing environmental causes of breast cancer through community education, research advocacy, and changes to public policy.

#breastcancer #prevention #parabens #cancerscreening

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