The 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium held in California featured new research for breast cancer therapy and prevention. The symposium highlighted five key studies that disclosed essential information for breast cancer patients and have produced promising results.
The Angelina Jolie effect
Six months after actress Angelina Jolie announced she had a BRCA mutation, a recent study has revealed that testing for BRCA1/2 mutations has doubled at a cancer center in Canada. BRCA1 and BRCA 2 are caretaker genes found in breast cells that suppress the growth of tumors and repair DNA. Mutations in these genes are very rare, affecting only 5-10% of breast cancer cases. They greatly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, and eventually become hereditary. The news of Jolie’s condition provided the necessary publicity needed to initiate a rapid increase in genetic testing and referrals. The “Angelina Jolie effect” has also encouraged many high-risk women to seek treatment.
Double mastectomies at higher risk for post-surgical complications
A study that evaluated over 18,000 breast cancer patients after surgery revealed that double mastectomies have a higher possibility of leading to complications than single mastectomies. Double mastectomies have a higher chance of needing blood transfusions and may lead to implant loss and a re-operation. They also require a longer hospital stay. Although the risks for both operations are generally low, it is still important for women to know about the potential danger of a double mastectomy. As much as 20,000-30,000 women a year choose to undergo a double mastectomy to treat their cancer. The results of this study now provide women with a clearer view of the risks presented to their bodies and can prevent any surgical complications from developing.
More returns for mammogram screenings
A personalized letter from a physician can improve return rates for women who are overdue for a mammography. In Canada, researchers selected 5,385 participants from the BC Screening Mammography Program that all had previous normal results and had not yet returned for a secondary screening. They sent postcard reminders to 2,689 of the women and reminders with personalized letters from the physicians to the other 2,696 women. The study showed that the women who received the postcards and letters were more likely to return for their second mammogram within six months.
Influencing the decision to undergo mastectomy
A study led by Katharine Yao of the NorthShore University Health System has shed some light on how women feel towards undergoing surgery for breast cancer. From a survey of 150 women who were newly diagnosed, 24% of the women who were considering a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy believed they had a higher risk than other patients and were also worried about getting other types of cancer. They had higher anxiety rates and were more likely to become depressed. These women also knew less about breast cancer and the surgery. This study highlights the need for cancer diagnosed women to be more knowledgeable about breast cancer and the types of treatment available. In addition, Yao added that the likelihood of getting contralateral breast cancer is very low and that breast cancer could return to the body regardless of whatever surgery patients choose.
Tumor subtype and neoadjuvant chemotherapy as predictors for recurrence
A study that analyzed loco-regional breast cancer recurrence showed that women who showed a pathologic response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy had increased risk. The study also revealed that women with HR-negative and HER-2 positive tumor sub-types were 12-15% more likely to experience recurrence. These results are still observational and have not yet established a definite connection to loco-regional recurrence.