Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) medical oncologists and certified genetic counselors are available to talk about the symptoms, risk factors, and advances in treatment and research for breast cancer.
Breast cancer by the numbers
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers, and the second leading cause of cancer death in women. In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. While less common, about 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American men in 2018.
While about 40,920 American women are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer, the death rates from female breast cancer have been steadily decreasing. Death rates from female breast cancer dropped 39 percent from 1989 to 2015, the latest data available. Early diagnosis of breast cancer through screening, increased awareness about risk factors, and better treatments may have contributed to this decrease.
Symptoms of breast cancer
In general, early detection of breast cancer can lead to a better outcome. The 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100 percent, while metastatic, or stage IV breast cancers, have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 22 percent. This is why preventative screenings — clinical breast exams and mammograms — and recognizing the symptoms of breast cancer are important.
While breast cancer symptoms may vary from person to person, the most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. Other symptoms may include skin changes to the breast tissue, change in the size of the breast, changes in the nipples including appearance and/or discharge, or general pain in or on any part of the breast.
Breast cancer risk factors
Certain factors can increase the risk for breast cancer, including:
- Family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast disease such as atypical hyperplasia
- Prior radiation treatment to the breast or chest
- Long-term hormone replacement therapy
- Dense breasts
- Regular alcohol consumption
There are preventative measures women can take to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer, including genetic counseling and lifestyle modifications.
A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative — mother, sister, daughter — who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Mutations in different genes can also raise the risk of breast cancer, including the most-known BRCA1 and BRCA2 inherited gene mutations. Not every woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will develop breast cancer. However, these gene mutations put a woman at increased risk for breast cancer.
Understanding genetic predisposition to breast cancer can help women and their families make informed decisions about how to manage their health. Decoding genetics can also help medical oncologists precisely tailor the most effective therapies for each patient with breast cancer.
WCHN’s certified genetic counselors can talk about the advances in genetic testing. They are learning more about genes other than BRCA1 and BRCA2 that can increase the risk of various cancers. They can also talk about the availability of multi-gene panel testing that may explain cancer predisposition in certain families.
The following lifestyle modifications have been shown to decrease breast cancer risk:
- Be physically active
- Eat a healthy diet
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight
Advances in treatment and research for breast cancer
WCHN is committed to ongoing clinical research in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
In fact, four cutting-edge breast cancer clinical trials have recently launched at Norwalk Hospital. As part of a pioneering cancer-care collaboration between Norwalk Hospital and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), the clinical trials are studying the effectiveness of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer. This cancer is an aggressive form of the disease that cannot be treated with hormone therapies or cancer-fighting drugs that target the three more common receptors that fuel breast cancer growth. Linda Vahdat, MD, MBA, Chief of Medical Oncology and Clinical Director of Cancer Services at Norwalk Hospital and Breast Medical Oncologist at MSK, can talk about these clinical trials.
Hear from a patient that is currently enrolled in one of the triple negative breast cancer clinical trials at Norwalk Hospital. Read her full story here.
Please contact WCHN to speak with our medical oncologists and certified genetic counselors: