October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Around the World

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Billed as the most common cancer in women, breast cancer is impacting the lives of one in eight women in the United States. The second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, breast cancer most commonly occurs in women 50 years of age and older. Breast cancer is caused by a genetic mutation in the DNA of breast cancer cells but how or why this damage occurs isn’t fully understood. Some mutations may develop randomly over time, while others are inherited or may be the result of environmental exposures or lifestyle factors. More than 3.5 million women are living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer.

Early detection remains the most important factor in the successful treatment and survivability of breast cancer. Caught early when known treatments have the best chance of success, breast cancer is survivable. Successful treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. “Risk factors include being female, obesity, a lack of physical exercise, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, having children late or not at all, older age, and family history.” With the clear lack of knowledge for its causes, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was founded in 1985 by the American cancer Society and what is now known as AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Held each October, the event is an attempt to increase the awareness of breast cancer and to aid the solicitation of funds for research and treatment of the disease. NBCAM unites cancer organizations around the world in providing information and support for those suffering from the cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness is represented by the display of pink ribbons, first introduced by the Susan G. Komen Foundation at its New York City race for breast cancer survivors in 1991.

The effort by so many to bring worldwide attention to the disease appears to be having a positive impact. A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 39% between 1989 and 2015. The overall declines in breast cancer death rates have been attributed to both improvements in treatment and early detection by mammograms. The American Cancer Society recommends women find breast cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be effective. While there is a lack or definite agreement on when and how often screening is most effective, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends annual screening beginning at age 40.

The professional team of oncologists and staff at Gettysburg Cancer Center supports the efforts of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in its world-wide goal to provide the latest information, research, treatment options and support for those who suffer from breast cancer.

Cancer Research: Not Always an Exact Science

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It is the question most frequently asked of doctors by patients who have just received a diagnosis of cancer, “Why me?” It is usually asked by those who thought they were living a healthy lifestyle and had little expectation of receiving the devastating news. Others may have been aware of near or distant family members who had a form of cancer.

While much progress has been made in the effort to understand multiple forms of cancer and the development of effective treatments, the answer to why some people get the disease and others do not remains predominately an elusive mystery. Cancer is known to be caused by changes, or mutations, to the DNA within cells that can cause the cell to stop its normal function and may allow a cell to become cancerous. Some faulty genes that increase the risk of cancer, known as inherited cancer genes, and genes that increase the risk of cancer called cancer susceptibility genes can be passed on from parent to child. But most of genetic mutations appear to occur after birth and aren’t inherited.

Environmental influences such as smoking, radiation, viruses, persistent exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise has been proven to provide a more definitive answer to the “Why Me?”. Even with this accepted knowledge, some people who share one or more of these environment factors appear to avoid a cancer diagnosis altogether.

Why do some cancers spread and kill patients, while many remain docile?  Seeking the answer to this question has researchers redirecting their approach for answers from why some get cancer to why so many do not. Ruslan Medzhitov, an Immunobiologist at Yale, says “You can inject the same virus into different hosts and get vastly different responses.”

Diagnosis and treatment becomes art and science. Researchers continue to develop and identify predictive tests based on gene mutations and patterns of gene regulation.  These tests assist in targeting the right therapies and treatments for each patient.  Research related to the micro-environments in which the cancer lives and spreads will provide beneficial to the prevention and early detection of cancer.

The field of oncology remains focused on a holistic approach factoring in the environment, genetic factors, and physiology, in the hopes of finding a concrete, science based answer to the “Why Me?”

To learn more about the clinical trials and research that Gettysburg Cancer Center offers its patients, click here.