October: Now is the time to get informed about breast cancer

breast cancerOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S., meaning now is the time to learn more about the disease, the genetic component to a common breast cancer medication and steps women can take to detect the disease early.

Breast cancer strikes about one in eight women in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The good news, according to the U.S. department of Health and Human Services (HHS): many women survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

A woman’s genetic makeup should also be a topic of discussion when it comes to breast cancer.  While many are aware of the BRCA genetic test to determine predisposition for getting breast cancer, few are aware of genetics’ equally important role in responding to breast cancer treatment.

The body’s metabolism of tamoxifen (Nolvadex), a common medication used in the treatment of breast cancer, may be affected by individual genetic variations, which could lead to reduced effectiveness of the drug. Genetic testing can help identify patients that are at risk for reduced effectiveness and gives medical providers insight to better manage treatment and drug regimens.

According to ACS data, about one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. However, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1989, the ACS says, numbers that are believed to be the result of early screening, increased awareness and improved treatment.

Organizations currently have differing recommendations for how often to get mammograms. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the ACS recommend screening be offered annually to women beginning at age 40. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening women every two years starting at age 50 and ending at age 74.

The HHS offers this advice for women wondering how to be proactive about breast cancer detection:

  • If you are a woman age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.
  • If you are a woman age 50 to 74, be sure to get a mammogram every two years. You may also choose to get them more often.

Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if a close family member of yours has breast or ovarian cancer. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get mammograms. For more information about breast cancer, including key statistics, signs and symptoms and news on emerging research, visit the ACS’s website.