XRAYS - Making Sense of Cancer Headlines

FORCE’s eXamining the Relevance of Articles for Young Survivors (XRAYS) program is a reliable resource for breast cancer research-related news and information. XRAYS reviews new breast cancer research, provides plain-language summaries, and rates how the media covered the topic. XRAYS is funded by the CDC.

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ARTICLE: Article: The buzz around MonaLisa Touch

For many young breast cancer survivors and high-risk women, the side effects from early menopause after treatment and surgery can negatively impact their personal lives. This XRAYS looks at one of the many recent media articles on a laser procedure called MonaLisa Touch. The article, "Is Laser Treatment for Vaginal Atrophy Safe?"  was published online in 2017 by FOX News and written by Dr. Manny Alvarez. XRAYS will discuss what this laser procedure actually is and how it may impact a young breast cancer patient’s life after treatment. (1/19/18)

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STUDY: Pregnancy around the time of a breast cancer diagnosis does not negatively affect survival

The number of women who become pregnant around the time of, or after a breast cancer diagnosis is increasing. However, it is unclear whether pregnancy around the time of a breast cancer diagnosis impacts survival. This recently published study demonstrates that the timing of pregnancy does not negatively affect breast cancer survival rates. (5/24/17)

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STUDY: Friends and family may help breast cancer survival

Does having a large social network help breast cancer survivors have better outcomes? Research from the current study found that socially isolated breast cancer survivors had an increased risk of recurrence and breast cancer-specific mortality. (3/16/17)

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STUDY: New research suggests exercise is safe for breast cancer patients at risk for lymphedema

Patients and health care providers are often concerned about how exercise affects lymphedema (swelling in the arm or hand) in breast cancer survivors or other women who have had lymph node biopsy at the time of mastectomy. Research on this topic has been mixed. A new study suggests that exercise after breast cancer treatment does not lead to lymphedema or worsen existing lymphedema. However, because this study was small, more work needs to be done to understand the relationship between exercise and lymphedema in cancer survivors. (2/22/17)

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STUDY: “Chemobrain” seen in breast cancer patients up to six months after treatment

Many people report memory or concentration problems, commonly known as “chemobrain,” during and after cancer treatment. New research shows that for some breast cancer patients these issues continue 6 months after treatment. Documentation of this well-known effect is a crucial first step in developing ways to limit and treat it. (02/02/17)

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ARTICLE: Male transgender breast cancer patient shares his experience in NYT piece

Denise Grady’s New York Times piece presents the struggles faced by Eli Oberman, a male transgender patient who was diagnosed with breast cancer, including the difficulty of being the only male patient in gynecologist waiting rooms that are full of women. (12/21/16)

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ARTICLE: CBS News brings attention to the issues facing young metastatic breast cancer patients

Beth Caldwell is a former civil rights lawyer, a mother of two, and a wife who was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer when she 37. Mary Brophy Marcus covered Beth’s story in her piece, “The hardest part” of breast cancer under 40, for CBS News. (11/8/16)

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STUDY: Removing ovaries before age 50 may increase the risk of chronic conditions for some women

Removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes prevents ovarian cancer, but it may come with other health risks. Experts recommend removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes in women at high risk for ovarian cancer due to inherited mutations in BRCA, and also suggest it for women with mutations in some other genes, because for these high-risk women the benefit of ovarian cancer prevention outweighs the risk of long-term complications. Based on a recent study, some researchers feel that for women who are not at increased risk for cancer, the risk for some chronic conditions is too high to consider removal of both ovaries. (11/1/16)

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ARTICLE: Huffington Post article brings attention to metastatic breast cancer

Barbara Jacoby's Huffington Post piece, "How do breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer differ?" emphasizes the need for more treatment options for patients with advanced breast cancer.

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STUDY: Can acupressure be used to treat cancer-related fatigue?

Breast cancer survivors commonly report experiencing considerable fatigue, which can lead to sleep problems and poor quality of life. Yet, there are no good therapies for these patients. This research study looks at whether self-administered acupressure can help breast cancer survivors with their fatigue. (8/9/16)

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STUDY: Is there a link between exercise and memory impairment for breast cancer survivors?

Exercise has been established to have many health benefits, but can it also help memory impairment for breast cancer survivors? New research finds that breast cancer survivors who exercised more had less fatigue and distress (anxiety, depression, stress, and/or concern about recurrence) and scored better on memory tests. (8/2/16)

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STUDY: Genetic testing for cancer risk: How many genes to sequence?

The past four years has seen a revolution in genetic testing for increased cancer risk. As the cost of genetic testing falls, patients can choose to have a single gene or a dozen or more sequenced. But many questions remain: Which genes should you search? How many should be sequenced? What tests are appropriate for which patients? A recent study that looked at sequencing 180 different genes found that increasing the number of genes sequenced beyond those known to elevate breast and ovarian cancer risk increases the number of uncertain results and does little to change clinical management. (06/14/16)

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STUDY: Do BRCA mutations affect fertility?

Age affects fertility. As women age, their ovaries release eggs that are not as healthy as those released in younger women, and in general, fewer eggs each menstrual cycle, making it harder for older women to become pregnant. Are BRCA mutation carriers less fertile? Previous research suggested that BRCA mutations might affect women's fertility. A recent study found that BRCA1 mutation carriers may have slightly lower fertility than women without the same mutation, but more research is needed before this finding is useful for medical decision-making. (5/24/16)

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STUDY: Financial burden affects quality of life of cancer survivors

Cancer-related financial burden can keep survivors from getting the care that they need, yet how this burden affects mental and physical help is still unknown. A recent study found that almost one-third of cancer survivors report having financial burden; those most likely to be affected were under age 65, female, members of racial or ethnic minority groups, and people who lack access to adequate insurance. (5/17/16)

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STUDY: Institute of Medicine report on state of ovarian cancer research and patient care underscores the need to know if you are at high risk for ovarian cancer

Young women with breast cancer meet national guidelines for genetic counseling and/or testing to determine if they have a mutation in BRCA and other genes that puts them at high risk for ovarian cancer. Recently, the Institute of Medicine brought together a committee of experts to evaluate the state of ovarian cancer research and care, because many things are still unknown about this disease. The committee published 11 recommendations to improve ovarian cancer risk prediction, prevention, early detection and care. (5/10/16)

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STUDY: Factors that affect the ability to work in people with metastatic cancer

Some patients who live with metastatic cancer either want or need to continue working while coping with symptoms of their disease and treatment. A recent study that looked at over 600 people with metastatic breast, prostate, colon, or lung cancer found that about one-third of them continue working full or part time. People most likely to continue working were those undergoing hormonal treatment and those with less severe symptoms or side effects from treatment. (4/12/16)

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STUDY: Vaginal estrogen may be used in women who have been treated for ER-positive breast cancer

After breast cancer treatment, some women experience vaginal dryness, urinary tract problems and other survivorship issues. Vaginal estrogen creams, rings and tablets effectively address these symptoms in menopausal women; however, there is concern that vaginal estrogen may not be safe for women with a history of estrogen-dependent (ER+) breast cancer. A recent opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice states that, based on available data, vaginal estrogen should be safe to use for women if nonhormonal approaches do not alleviate their symptoms. (3/29/16)

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STUDY: BRCA testing in young women with breast cancer

National guidelines recommend genetic testing for BRCA mutations in young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. However, little is known about how women decide to get testing, or how they use genetic information to decide on treatment options. This study found that genetic testing is increasing among young breast cancer survivors, and it explores some of the factors that play into patients’ decision making about genetic testing. (3/22/16)

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STUDY: Smoking before or after a breast cancer diagnosis associated with poorer breast cancer survival

Cigarette smoking is an important public health issue that causes more than 480,000 deaths annually. Smoking increases the risk of many diseases, from heart disease to stroke. This research indicates that smoking before and or after a diagnosis of breast cancer affects survival, and also shows that it is never too late to quit smoking.

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STUDY: Potential genetic basis for breast cancer survivors who develop therapy-related leukemia

The population of breast cancer survivors in the United States is increasing. One rare but dangerous long-term effect of breast cancer treatment is an increased risk of leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer. A recent study uncovered a potential genetic basis for this condition.

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STUDY: Does lumpectomy or mastectomy provide better survival for women with early stage breast cancer?

Previous research has hinted that women who have breast-conserving surgeries have the same, if not better, overall survival as women who have mastectomies. Researchers in this study wanted to see if that was true; they found that women who chose breast-conserving surgeries did have a higher overall survival. However, this study, presented at the 2015 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, had limitations that make it difficult to interpret the results or to extend them to all women with breast cancer.

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STUDY: Effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment during pregnancy on the health and development of the child

Very little work has studied how a woman's cancer diagnosis and treatment during pregnancy affects her child. This study of women who were diagnosed with cancer while pregnant looks at their children at ages 18 months and 3 years. The study found no difference in general, cognitive, and cardiac development when compared to children born to healthy mothers.

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STUDY: Do antioxidants encourage the spread of cancer cells?

Metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor to another site in the body, is a complex process. Researchers do not understand why a few cells metastasize while other cells do not. A study performed in mouse models suggests that high doses of some antioxidants may make it easier for cancer cells to metastasize.

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ARTICLE: What “The Truth About Cancer” got wrong about BRCA mutations and cancer

A recent web series and related articles contain dangerous misinformation about BRCA mutations and cancer. Everyone is born with two copies of both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which play essential roles in preventing cancer. Individuals born with a change or mutation in one of these genes have a higher lifetime risk of breast, ovarian, and other cancers than those without a mutation. Some claim that cancer in people with BRCA mutations can be controlled by 'turning the gene on and off.' This is false and misleading. BRCA mutation carriers are at risk of cancer because they lack a working copy of one of the genes involved in preventing cancer development. Turning a mutated BRCA gene on or off has no effect because once a mutation develops, the gene no longer works.

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STUDY: New research may lead to a blood test that detects breast cancer recurrence earlier

Recent headlines announced a blood test that can potentially predict which breast cancer survivors are at risk of recurrence. This particular blood test, one of many being developed, is sometimes called a “liquid biopsy.” This early research focuses on a technique that is promising, but not yet available to breast cancer survivors.

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STUDY: All DCIS is not the same: Young women and African American women at higher risk after DCIS diagnosis

Diagnoses of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), sometimes called stage 0 breast cancer, have increased in recent decades. Many people with DCIS wonder if they need aggressive treatment. A recent study looking at the survival of over 100,000 women found that breast cancer mortality after DCIS is low (3%), and identified groups of women who are at higher risk after DCIS.

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STUDY: Weight gain associated with breast cancer survivorship

Weight gain in breast cancer survivors can affect survival and quality-of-life. This study found that breast cancer survivors are more likely to gain weight than women of the same age who are at high risk, but have never been diagnosed with cancer. The study looked at which groups of survivors were more likely to gain weight.

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