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Making Sense of Cancer Headlines

FORCE's XRAYS program, funded by the CDC, is a reliable resource for young breast cancer survivors and high-risk women to navigate through breast cancer research related news and information.

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XRAYS: Making Sense of Cancer Headlines


About the XRAYS Program

FORCE developed our eXamining the Relevance of Articles for Young Survivors (XRAYS) program to empower young breast cancer survivors and high-risk women by providing tools for evaluating reports of new breast cancer-related research. Funded by the CDC, XRAYS will provide reviews and ratings of news media articles on breast cancer research to help young breast cancer survivors better understand research that is relevant to them. Learn more about the XRAYS program

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STUDY: Can MammaPrint guide treatment decisions?

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recently updated its guidelines for MammaPrint, a genomic tumor test that guides treatment decisions for patients with early-stage invasive breast cancer. The update was based on results from the MINDACT study (11/16/17). 

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ARTICLE: Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and hereditary cancer

Andrew Joseph’s piece for STAT, “A baby with a disease gene or no baby at all: Genetic testing of embryos creates an ethical morass,” focuses on  preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the emerging ethical issue in the field of reproductive medicine: What to do when patients seeking to get pregnant select embryos with DNA that could lead to a disease or a disability.  (11/8/17)

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STUDY: Alcohol and breast cancer risk in African American women

The link between alcohol intake and breast cancer is well known, but most studies have involved only White women. Recently, a large study of more than 22,000 African American (AA) women found that similar to White women, increased alcohol consumption is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. (10/27/17)

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ARTICLE: Mixed reviews of at-home genetic testing

National guidelines recommend that patients meet with a genetics expert before undergoing genetic testing for cancer risk. Genetic counseling can help patients decide whether genetic testing is right for them and order the most appropriate test. Once test results are available, genetics experts also help patients understand their results. Over the last decade, the popularity of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing, such as 23andMe has grown. Some genetic tests are marketed to consumers on television, in print advertisements, and on the Internet. These “at-home” genetic tests give people direct access to their genetic information without first involving a healthcare provider in the process. A recent report outlines the benefits and limitations of DTC genetic testing. (10/20/17)

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STUDY: Can chemotherapy before surgery fuel breast cancer metastasis?

Some breast cancer patients are given neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy. However, some recent studies have raised concerns that neoadjuvant treatment might actually trigger cancer spread in certain situations. In the current study, researchers used mouse models and human breast cancers to explore this possibility. (10/10/17)

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STUDY: Beauty and the breast: hair product use and breast cancer risk

Past studies using mostly animal models showed a link between use of hair products (dyes, straighteners and relaxers) and increased risk of certain cancers. In this study, researchers looked at data on hair product use among African-American (AA) and White women to see if certain types of hair products increased breast cancer risk, and how that risk might differ between race and breast cancer hormone status. (9/27/2017)

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ARTICLE: Can lifestyle changes impact breast cancer risk?

A recent New York Times article shared how “adopting protective living habits”  could help keep breast cancer “at bay”.  While many of these lifestyle changes and strategies like not smoking, avoiding weight gain, reducing alcohol consumption, eating a heart-healthy diet, and increasing physical activity have been shown to reduce breast cancer risk, there are other risk factors that one cannot control such as having a BRCA or other mutation that significantly increases breast cancer risk. Importantly, no one strategy has been proven to totally eliminate breast cancer risk. However many of these approaches have overall health benefits. (9/21/2017)

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STUDY: Does expanded genetic testing benefit Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer?

Carrying a BRCA gene mutation increases the risk of cancer in both women and men. Such information is valuable for people diagnosed with cancer and can affect medical decisions for both the patient and his or her family members. Approximately 2% of people of Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern European) descent carry one of three common BRCA gene mutations. For Ashkenazi Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer who do not carry one of the three common BRCA mutations, little is known about their chance of carrying another hereditary mutation that may increase risk. This study looked at how often Ashkenazi Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer were found to carry mutations other than the three common BRCA gene mutations found among individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. (09/13/17)

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STUDY: Breast cancers can disappear without treatment: fact or fiction?

Previous studies and news headlines have reported that it is possible for breast cancers to regress or disappear on their own. Is this true? The authors of the current research study show that of 479 untreated breast cancers detected by screening mammography, none regressed or spontaneously disappeared on their own. (9/7/17)

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STUDY: Does aspirin lower a woman’s breast cancer risk?

Women who take aspirin regularly may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. However, previous studies have reported mixed results—some suggest risk is lowered with aspirin while others do not see a protective effect. Few of these studies have looked at whether this potential benefit of aspirin is linked to specific types of breast cancer. This study found a modest reduction in breast cancer risk for women who took a low-dose aspirin at least three times per week, but only for one subtype of breast cancer. Women who took aspirin were less likely to develop ER/PR-positive/Her2- negative breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer. This study found no breast cancer risk reduction for women who used regular-dose aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). (8/29/17)

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ARTICLE: Parents face challenges when deciding the best time to tell children that they may be at high risk for cancer

When certain types of cancers run in families, genetic testing can determine whether the cause is hereditary. Genetic testing can help family members understand their cancer risk and make medical decisions to stay healthy. A test result can provide significant insight, but it also creates challenges for parents, because gene mutations that cause hereditary cancers can be passed from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. People with these mutations must make difficult decisions about when to tell their children that they too may have inherited the mutation. (8/22/2017)

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STUDY: Breast cancer rates are rapidly increasing among Asian women in California

The majority of racial groups in the United States have seen declines in breast cancer rates. However, this study provides new insights into the patterns of breast cancer rates in Asian American subgroups in California. Using 26 years of data, this research found that breast cancer is rapidly increasing among this population, contrasting to a decline in rates among non-Hispanic white women in California and nationwide. (8/15/17)

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STUDY: Do physicians recommend breast cancer screenings based on guidelines?

Several guidelines help physicians decide when a woman should begin screening for breast cancer and how often she should be screened. However, are these guidelines put into use in the clinic? (8/8/17)

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ARTICLE: Report on vaccines to prevent hereditary cancer

On May 30th Good Morning America aired a segment entitled “Can a vaccine help prevent breast cancer at its earliest stages?” The story outlines the need for cancer prevention and hints at early research into a cancer vaccine. (8/1/17)

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STUDY: New cancer risk estimates for BRCA1/2 mutation carriers

Cancer risk estimates for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers are important because they impact patient decision-making. Until now, almost all risk estimates for mutation carriers were based on results of retrospective studies that looked back on mutation carriers who had cancer. This new study is prospective—it followed almost 10,000 BRCA mutation carriers without cancer to see if or when they developed breast or ovarian cancer. The cancer risk estimates of this study may be more accurate because it followed mutation carriers who did not have cancer over time. (7/28/17)

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ARTICLE: Can your breast cancer come back?

Elaine Howley’s piece for US News & World Report, “Can My Breast Cancer Come Back?” examines a common misperception that many breast cancer patients have after completing treatment, and explains what can actually occur. (7/25/17)

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STUDY: Gaps in genetic testing and decision-making for women with early-stage breast cancer

Genetic testing for cancer risk is now more affordable and easier to obtain. As a result, many breast cancer patients are tested without ever seeing a genetic counselor. Genetic testing results affect treatment decision making, but they can be confusing, especially if patients do not receive genetic counseling. This study looks at breast cancer patients’ experiences following genetic testing and how testing results affect surgical decision making. (7/14/17)

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STUDY: Immunotherapy shows promise in triple-negative breast cancer

Patients diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) do not have many treatment options. Immunotherapy, a new type of cancer treatment, pushes the body’s natural defense or immune system to fight cancer. A new immunotherapy drug, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) may improve survival for patients with metastatic TNBC. (07/11/17)

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STUDY: Diet during teen years and early adulthood is linked to breast cancer risk

During teen years, breast tissue grows rapidly in young girls and is more likely to be harmed by substances that are known to cause cancer. Few studies have looked at the relationship between diet during puberty and breast cancer risk. This study looks at how a woman’s diet during their teenage years and early adulthood is associated with breast cancer development later in life. (6/30/17)

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STUDY: FDA busts myths of preventing cancer by eating apricot kernels, herbs, and other ingredients

Maggie Fox (NBC News) writes about a new FDA report that warns of 14 "fraudulent” cancer products claiming to either cure or treat cancer (1). The companies that sell these products claim that many of them also prevent cancer, but are they safe or effective? (6/26/17)

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STUDY: Cost savings associated with a shorter course or omission of radiation treatment for early-stage breast cancer

Breast cancer treatment costs are high. Lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy is a common treatment for early-stage breast cancer; however, patients may receive different radiation regimens, which carry different costs. Authors of this research study wanted to estimate the potential health care cost savings if early-stage breast cancer patients received the least expensive radiation regimen for which they were safely eligible. (6/20/17)

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STUDY: Newly developed tumor test may identify more BRCA-like breast cancers

PARP inhibitors are a new type of cancer treatment developed for patients who have BRCA mutations. The FDA has approved three PARP inhibitors for treatment of ovarian cancer. These medications are also being studied for treating breast cancer in people with BRCA mutations. Researchers believe that these medications may also work well for breast cancer patients whose tumors have features similar to BRCA tumors; this current study describes a new screening tool that may help health care providers find those tumors. Related clinical trials involving PARP inhibitors are ongoing. (6/2/17)

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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: Does scalp cooling help prevent hair loss after chemotherapy for breast cancer?

Hair loss is one of the most recognized and distressing side effects of some chemotherapies. Two new studies looked at the use of scalp cooling therapy to help reduce hair loss after chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer. (5/15/17)

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STUDY: Common genetic change found in some tumors of patients who relapse after aromatase inhibitor treatment

About one in five people diagnosed with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer relapse within 10 years after treatment. Researchers and health care providers do not know why this happens. This early research aims to identify a genetic change in the tumor that may cause relapse, but more studies are needed to understand why patients relapse and who is at risk. (5/3/17)

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STUDY: Does eating soy affect the risk of death in breast cancer survivors?

Is eating soy safe for people who have had breast cancer? This topic has been controversial among health care providers, patients, and survivors for many years because research has yielded mixed results. Some studies suggest people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer should eat more soy products, while other studies recommend they eat less or avoid it altogether. Which should it be? Adding to this research is a new study that asked breast cancer survivors about their soy consumption before and after diagnosis. (4/27/17)

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STUDY: FDA report claims women with breast implants may be at risk for rare cancer

Recent headlines highlighted an FDA report stating that patients with breast implants may be at increased risk for a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. What is the scientific evidence behind this claim? (4/21/17)

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STUDY: Nearly half of breast cancer patients experience a severe side effect after treatment

While clinical trials track treatment side effects, fewer studies look at the burden of side effects on women undergoing breast cancer treatment or compare the side effects of different treatments. This study looks at the severity of side effects experienced by women treated for early-stage breast cancer and the post-treatment burden they experience. (4/11/17)

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STUDY: Routine breast cancer screening leads to overdiagnosis

Routine breast cancer screening for women of average risk has been controversial for many years because some believe that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Recent headlines covering a study in Denmark suggests that routine breast cancer screening leads to “overdiagnosis” of breast cancer. (4/4/17)

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ARTICLE: Does metastasis happen earlier than previously thought?

Sharon Begley discusses an unconventional new idea about how cancer cells spread (a process known as metastasis) in her recent piece for the website STAT. She states that, “cancer cells spread way earlier than thought, seeding metastases that cause most deaths.” (3/28/17)

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STUDY: Does working night shifts increase breast cancer risk?

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified night shift work as a possible risk factor for breast cancer in 2007, although the majority of the evidence for this claim came from studies of animals after their normal sleep-wake cycle was disrupted. The authors of this study surveyed women from three different cohorts to examine whether night shift work can increase a woman’s breast cancer risk. (3/24/17)

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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: Patient experiences with genetic testing

Patients can now find out if they have a mutation in more than 20 different genes that are associated with cancer risk, thanks to research advances and the decreasing cost of genetic testing. However, patients’ experiences and use of genetic counseling and testing with these changes are unknown. Do patients want genetic testing? Are they getting tested? (3/7/17)

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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: Study: Hot chili pepper component slows growth and kills laboratory-grown breast cancer cells

Finding new treatments that target triple-negative breast cancer is an area of great interest. An early step in developing these treatments is learning more about the biology of tumor in the laboratory. This study looked at how capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, might work with a protein found in many cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer, to stop cancer cell growth. This is the first step in a long process towards developing new treatments for triple-negative breast cancer. (2/14/17)

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STUDY: A step in the development of a new breast cancer risk assessment tool for Hispanic women

Current tools used to calculate breast cancer risk make their estimations based on data from non-Hispanic white women and may not accurately predict breast cancer risk in women of other races and ethnicities. With further testing, a new risk assessment tool developed specifically for Hispanic women could more accurately predict breast cancer risk in women who do not have mutations in BRCA or other genes associated with hereditary breast cancer. (02/07/17)

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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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STUDY: Does prior antidepressant use affect the treatment breast cancer patients receive?

Previous research found an association between depression and survival in breast cancer patients, but the reasons for this association are unclear. Researchers in this study found that women who had been previously prescribed antidepressants were less likely to receive breast cancer treatment that followed national guidelines than those who had not. Although the difference was small, it underscores the need for patients to discuss any history of depression with their health care providers. (1/24/17)

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STUDY: Women with breast cancer symptoms but no lump may wait longer to seek medical care

Some patients take longer than others before getting a potential breast cancer checked by their health care provider. Believing that women who have breast cancer symptoms but have no lump may wait longer, researchers in this study used data from women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and 2010 to identify possible explanations. (1/18/17)

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STUDY: High vitamin D levels at breast cancer diagnosis may be associated with a better prognosis

Vitamin D is most known for its role in maintaining bone health. Recent research looked at its role in many other biological processes and diseases, including breast cancer. In this study, researchers found that breast cancer patients who had the highest amounts of vitamin D in their blood (slightly over the recommended levels) had better health outcomes, including overall survival, than women with lower amounts of vitamin D. This finding adds to the growing evidence for the role of vitamin D in cancer, but it does not change how breast cancer is prevented or treated. (1/10/17)

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STUDY: Angelina Jolie spoke out on BRCA testing: Did genetic testing increase?

Angelina Jolie published an editorial in the New York Times in 2013 about her choice to have a double mastectomy after finding out she was positive for a BRCA1 mutation. Researchers from a recent study claim that her celebrity endorsement of BRCA testing may have missed its target audience (previvors), due to the increase in BRCA testing following publication of the editorial but a decrease in the number of mastectomies performed. However, the study failed to take into account that many women without breast cancer do not pursue mastectomy in the months following genetic testing. (1/4/17)

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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: After mastectomy: reconstruct or not?

Today, more women know they can have breast reconstruction after removing their breasts for cancer treatment or risk reduction. But what about choosing not to undergo reconstruction? Roni Caryn Rabin writes about the experiences of women who decide against reconstruction in her New York Times piece “‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer.” (12/14/16)

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ARTICLE: Headlines claim drug combination destroys tumor in 11 days—is this too good to be true?

A recent IFLScience headline proclaimed "Remarkable Breast Cancer Trial Destroys Tumors in Just 11 Days." This sounds amazing but it leaves out key facts. First, the finding applies only to HER2-positive breast cancer, not all breast cancers. More importantly, the results are from a conference presentation and have not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. What does that mean for breast cancer patients? (12/6/16)

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ARTICLE: Men get breast cancer too

Cathy Free's piece for People, “Men Have Breasts Too: New York Man Who Survived Stage 2 Breast Cancer Spreads Message,” tells the stories of two men whose experiences with breast cancer inspired them to speak openly about breast cancer awareness for men. (11/29/16)

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STUDY: Cancer treatment costs can vary widely

Healthcare providers cannot give their breast cancer patients information on chemotherapy treatment costs because not enough is known about the exact costs. New research finds that costs vary not only between different cancer treatments, but also between similar treatments, such as all treatments that target HER2+ breast cancer. (11/22/16)

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ARTICLE: Genetic testing has become more affordable and available. Should you get it?

What are reasons to get or not get genetic testing? Cynthia Graber gives her thoughts on the matter in her Wired opinion piece, "Why I Won't Get the Genetic Test for Breast Cancer." (11/15/16)

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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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STUDY: Breast cancer mortality among Hispanic women in the United States varies by country of origin

"Hispanic" is a broad ethnic category that includes people from numerous countries. When discussing breast cancer statistics, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and people whose families originated in Central and South America are typically grouped into one Hispanic category. A new study looked at whether the country of origin affected breast cancer prevalence and mortality rates in Hispanic women in the U.S. (10/25/16)

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STUDY: Breast cancer screening should be tailored to a woman’s risk factors and breast density

The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a screening mammogram every other year for women ages 50-74 who are at average risk for breast cancer. But do all patients in this category benefit from this screening regimen?

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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: New guidelines for DCIS breast-conserving surgery

Breast-conserving therapy (which includes lumpectomy and radiation treatment) increases survival rates for patients who have DCIS. But what amount of extra tissue outside the tumor should be removed to minimize breast cancer recurrence? (10/4/16)

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STUDY: Rare mutations in PALB2, CHEK2, and ATM: how much do they increase cancer risk?

As multi-gene panel tests become more common, people are discovering they have mutations in genes that are not understood as well as BRCA. This can make it difficult to give patients accurate assessments of their cancer risk. For example, mutations in PALB2, CHEK2, and ATM are rare, but some specific changes in these genes are even less common. How can researchers study the cancer risks for people who carry rare mutations in these genes? This study's an international collaboration aiming to better understand the cancer risks of some PALB2, CHEK2, and ATM mutationsshows how difficult it can be to obtain enough data to provide accurate risk information. The findings are relevant only to the specific mutations in this paper and do not apply to all people with mutations in PALB2, CHEK2, or ATM. (9/27/16)

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ARTICLE: A cancer patient’s tumor is genetically profiled—how does that info help her treatment?

Jessica Wapner's Scientific American article explores the difficulties of making the vast amount of information acquired from tumor gene tests useful to patients and physicians. (9/20/16).

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STUDY: Tumor gene test may determine which breast cancer patients can forgo chemotherapy

Because women may experience negative side effects after chemotherapy, researchers wanted a way to determine which breast cancer patients can avoid chemotherapy without affecting their survival. This study suggests that a test that looks at 70 genes in breast tumors may be able to identify breast cancer patients who can do without chemotherapy for their disease. (9/13/16)

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ARTICLE: Dogs: Companions, hunters, and cancer detectors?

In August 2016, many news outlets published stories about how actress Shannen Doherty’s dog was able to sniff out her cancer before she was diagnosed. Is there scientific validity to that claim? (9/616)

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STUDY: How beneficial is online communication after a new diagnosis of breast cancer?

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients often use online communication to find more information about their diagnoses and treatment options. But does online communication benefit these patients' decision-making process? (8/30/16)

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STUDY: Does IVF increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) wasn't commonly used until the 1980s, so its long-term effects are mostly unknown. A new study suggests that the treatment does not increase a woman's risk for developing breast cancer. (8/23/16)

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STUDY: NIH awards $12 million grant to better understand breast cancer genetics in black women

Black women are more likely to develop aggressive breast cancers, and are more likely to die from their breast cancers. The reason for this is unclear. The National Cancer Institute has awarded a grant of approximately $12 million so that the biology of breast cancer in black breast cancer patients can be better understood. The results of this study will not be available to the public for several years, but the announcement brings much needed attention to this disparity. (8/15/16)

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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: Extending aromatase inhibitor duration to 10 years lowers recurrence for ER/PR+ breast cancer patients

Hormonal therapy reduces the risk of recurrence for women with early-stage breast cancer that is ER-and/or PR-positive. Standard therapy lasts 5 years. A new study looks at whether extending one type of hormonal therapy, known as aromatase inhibitor therapy, to 10 years lowers recurrence rates even more for these women. (7/26/16)

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STUDY: Racial disparities in BRCA testing: Why?

Black women receive BRCA testing less frequently than white women. Why is that? Researchers thought the reason might be that black and white women see different health care providers. However, new research suggests that disparities in physician recommendations for testing are the cause: black women with breast cancer were less likely to receive physician recommendations for BRCA testing than white women with breast cancer. There is a need to ensure equity in physician testing recommendations for black women. (7/21/16)

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STUDY: Early research on a drug to prevent breast cancer

Many researchers are interested in non-surgical options to reduce the higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer in BRCA mutation carriers. This research study identified a type of drug, called a “RANK ligand inhibitor,” that may prevent breast cancer. Among mice that were genetically engineered to have no BRCA1 genes, those that were given the drug developed tumors less frequently than those that did not. While this is an exciting early study for BRCA mutation carriers, more work and human clinical trials need to be done before this can be used as a prevention therapy in humans. (7/12/16)

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STUDY: Early research uncovers potential targets for triple-negative breast cancer

ER+ and HER2+ breast cancers are often treated with targeted therapy, but no such treatment is available for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Early laboratory research suggests that vitamin D and androgen receptors might be potential targets for new treatment for TNBC. However, many more studies are needed before these targets can be tested against human breast cancer (7/5/16).

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STUDY: Breast cancer risk model updated for average risk women with genetic, lifestyle and environmental information

A number of factors are known to increase breast cancer risk, but some newly discovered factors have not been incorporated into breast cancer risk prediction models. This study incorporates some of these risk factors, such as genetics, smoking, and drinking, to give white women in the U.S. a more individualized breast cancer risk assessment. (6/29/16)

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STUDY: Does light alcohol consumption affect your breast cancer risk?

Alcohol is known to increase breast cancer risk, but does that include light consumption? This study indicates that some breast cancer occurrences and mortality is due to light alcohol consumption. (06/21/16)

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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: Dense breast notifications are informative but hard to read and understand

Some states offer women dense breast notifications that are meant to explain that dense breasts are risk factors for breast cancer and can hide cancer on mammograms, and to identify appropriate supplemental screening options. But recent research found that this information is often not easy to read or understand, which questions the usefulness of the documents. (6/7/16)

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STUDY: Can long periods of fasting protect against breast cancer recurrence?

Previous research in mice suggested that long periods of fasting provide protection against factors that are associated with a poor cancer outcome. A new study associates prolonged fasting (13 hours or more) at night with a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence, but no association between fasting time at night and mortality. While these findings are interesting, more research needs to be done to confirm them. In the meantime, breast cancer survivors should discuss any concerns about nutrition with their health care providers. 05/30/16

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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: More patients with invasive breast cancer opting for double mastectomies

Women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer have a number of surgical options. They can have breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) with radiation, a unilateral (single) mastectomy to remove only the tissue from the cancerous breast, or a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM), which removes both breasts. A new study finds that more women are opting for CPM, yet overall survival for these patients is not increasing. (5/3/2016)

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STUDY: Cellular diversity in tumors may predict survival for some types of breast cancer

Some tumors are made up of many different types of cells, while others contain generally the same cell type. A new study found that among people with high-grade breast cancer, those who have tumors made up of many different cell types have a lower 10-year survival rate than people with tumors containing only a single type of cells. This research is an early step towards developing a new test that can help physicians identify cancers that need more aggressive treatment, but more research is needed before it is ready for clinical use. (4/26/16)

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STUDY: Is breast cancer risk increased in BRCA-mutation negative women?

Some women who do not carry a BRCA mutation, but come from a BRCA-positive family, still develop breast cancer. This research examines whether these women are at higher risk for breast cancer, or whether their risk is similar to women in the general population. (4/19/16)

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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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ARTICLE: New York Times report demonstrates need for genetic counseling, but doesn’t give the whole story

A recent New York Times report discussed how genetic testing could provide “grim data” without guidance for patients. While this is a valid concern, this report does not sufficiently emphasize certain important issues regarding genetic testing, particularly the need for genetic counseling by a health care provider with expertise in genetics before and after genetic testing. (4/5/16)

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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: Researchers study the potential association between thyroid and breast cancers

Researchers and health care providers have observed that thyroid and breast cancers occur in the same patients more often than would be expected by chance. This has prompted them to attempt to better understand whether or not an association exists between the two cancers. This study found that compared to the average person, women diagnosed with breast cancer appear have a slightly higher risk for a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, and that women with thyroid cancer are at a slightly higher risk for breast cancer. More research needs to be done to better understand the basis of this association. (3/15/16)

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STUDY: Do women who eat a high fiber diet have a lower risk of breast cancer?

Some researchers believe that dietary fiber may decrease breast cancer risk by lowering estrogen levels in the blood. However, many previous studies have failed to find a link between fiber consumption and lower breast cancer risk. The current study suggests that consuming high dietary fiber during adolescence and young adulthood may lower breast cancer risk, but more work needs to be done to confirm this finding. In the meantime, everyone is encouraged to eat a variety of high fiber foods for the many well-documented health benefits. (March 8, 2016)

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STUDY: What are the genetics underlying 12 different cancer types?

As gene sequencing has become more affordable, researchers and health care providers are now looking for mutations in many genes beyond BRCA1, BRCA2 and others that are associated with known hereditary cancer syndromes. By sequencing thousands of genes rather than just one or two, researchers can better understand which inherited mutations affect cancer risk. In this study, researchers sequenced thousands of genes in patients with one of 12 cancers, including breast, and catalogued which gene mutations are most commonly found in each cancer.

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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: How do ultrasound and mammography compare in breast cancer screening?

Mammography has been shown to reduce breast cancer deaths; however, women in developing countries don’t have easy access to mammography. Ultrasound screening, on the other hand, is portable and less expensive, and could be an alternative to mammography. This study compared mammography to ultrasound in women with dense breasts and found the two techniques have similar cancer detection rates, although the false positive rate is higher with ultrasound.

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STUDY: Are mutations in BRIP1, BARD1, PALB2, and NBN associated with an increased risk for ovarian cancer?

Many women who meet national guidelines for genetic testing for BRCA mutations find that they do not carry a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 despite their personal and family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. Expanded panel tests now look for mutations in other genes associated with increased cancer risk. However, the extent of cancer risk for people with mutations in some of these other genes is not yet known. This study examines whether mutations in four genes found on many commercially available panels, BRIP1, BARD1, PALB2, and NBN, are associated with an increased risk for ovarian cancer. The researchers estimate that BRIP1 mutation carriers have about a 6% risk of developing ovarian cancer by age 80.

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STUDY: Sugar promotes tumor growth and metastasis in mouse model breast cancer

Previous human studies found associations between high sugar intake and breast cancer risk. This study looked at the direct effect of sugar on breast cancer growth and metastasis in mice. While researchers observed that sugar increased tumor growth and metastasis, more work needs to be done to see if this finding is relevant in humans. It is important to remember, the overall health benefits of limiting sugar intake remain undisputed.

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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: Do parabens in personal care products increase cancer risk?

Parabens are chemicals that can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. As estrogen has been shown to increase breast cancer risk, some people have asked if parabens found in some cosmetics and shampoos will also increase breast cancer risk. Many studies have shown that parabens in the quantities found in personal care products are safe. A recent study of human breast cancer cells suggests that in certain conditions, parabens could help some breast cancer cells grow. It is important to remember that this is early research; this single laboratory-based study does not conclusively prove that parabens are dangerous. More work, including human studies, needs to be done to understand if parabens increase cancer risk.

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STUDY: Study uses mice and brains from deceased Alzheimer’s patients to assess BRCA1 involvement

Researchers noted reduced levels of BRCA1 protein in the brains of mice and deceased Alzheimer's patients. While this study is interesting early work on the biology of Alzheimer's disease, the focus was primarily Alzheimer's disease, rather than the effect of BRCA1 mutations on Alzheimer's. Therefore, this study's observation may be something that is seen in Alzheimer's patients, but does not necessarily cause the disease. No studies suggest that BRCA1 mutation carriers are at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

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STUDY: How many children with cancer have mutations in genes that increase cancer risk?

Many genes are associated with increased cancer risk in adults, but it is unclear how common these mutations are in children with cancer. This study found that about 9% of children with cancer carry mutations in a gene that is known to increase cancer risk. Over half of the mutations were in the TP53 gene, which is associated with increased cancer risk at a young age and increased risk of breast cancer in adults.

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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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STUDY: Aerobic exercise lowers estrogen levels in premenopausal women at high risk for breast cancer

Many treatments that lower estrogen levels also reduce breast cancer risk. Unfortunately, these treatments are also associated with negative side effects. A recent study looked at the effect of regular aerobic exercise on the estrogen levels of women who are at high risk for breast cancer.

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STUDY: Breastfeeding may reduce hormone receptor negative breast cancer risk

Previous studies have shown that women who breastfeed have a reduced breast cancer risk. This study examines this association in the different breast cancer subtypes (ER, PR, HER2 negative/positive) and finds that breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of ER-/PR- breast cancer.

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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: The cost-effectiveness of universal BRCA screening

As the cost of BRCA sequencing continues to fall, medical experts are considering the possibility of universal testing testing all women regardless of their breast and/or ovarian cancer history for BRCA mutations. In a recent JAMA Oncology article, researchers argue that the current cost of BRCA testing for all women in the United States is greater than the benefit gained in terms of cancers found and yearly life quality improved.

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STUDY: Impact of familial breast cancer risk on young girls

Does growing up in a family that is at high risk for breast cancer affect young girls? Recent research found girls from families with BRCA mutations and/or a strong family history of cancer to be as well adjusted as peers of the same age. The one difference was that girls from families facing breast cancer risk had more stress related to breast cancer than their peers. While these findings are reassuring, parents know their children best, and they should ask for help if they believe their daughters are not coping well.

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STUDY: Clinical trial looks at combining cancer vaccine and chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer patients

A phase II clinical trial has looked at whether metastatic breast cancer patients improve after receiving a combination of chemotherapy and an experimental cancer vaccine. While the results of the trial show a trend towards longer time without their cancer progressing, a larger clinical trial needs to be done to confirm this finding.

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STUDY: Predicting which women have breast cancers that will respond to hormone therapy alone

Not all breast cancer is the same. Nor do all cancers react similarly to chemotherapy, but a specific test helps doctors and patients decide if an early cancer needs to be treated with chemotherapy. This week we review a recent paper that showed the Oncotype DX test reliably identifies women with ER+ early-stage breast cancer who can be treated with hormone therapy alone.

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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: Are more men with breast cancer opting for prophylactic mastectomy?

Recent headlines describe the rise in prophylactic double mastectomy for men with breast cancer. This week, we look at the research to see how many men are choosing this option and what it means for men with breast cancer.

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STUDY: BRCA mutations more common than expected in young black women with breast cancer

Most estimates of the percentage of breast cancer patients with mutations in BRCA are based on studies of non-Hispanic white women. Researchers have found that the prevalence of BRCA mutations in black women diagnosed at a young age with breast cancer is approximately double that of previously reported estimates in non-Hispanic white women with breast cancer diagnosed in similar age categories. This study underscores the need for health care providers to refer for genetic counseling and testing all black women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at or before age 50.

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STUDY: Mutations found through multigene panel testing for cancer risk can change patient care

Multigene panel testing can look for mutations in many genes associated with increased cancer risk. Some panels include genes associated with increased risk of multiple cancers, including breast, ovarian, colon, and gastric cancers. This study demonstrates that multigene panel tests yield findings that can change the care for patients by uncovering cancers for which they are at increased risk.

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STUDY: Prenatal exposure to the pesticide DDT and breast cancer risk

This study found an association between prenatal exposure to the pesticide DDT, and an increased risk of women developing breast cancer. While this study does not prove that DDT exposure directly causes breast cancer, it serves as a reminder that pregnant women's exposure to toxic environmental agents can affect their children's risk for disease later in life.

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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: Researchers study breast cancer patients’ experiences with genetic testing

Genetic testing is now more available and affordable than ever before. If you are a young breast cancer survivor, knowing if you have a mutation associated with increased cancer risk can affect your treatment options. This study highlights patient's experiences with genetic testing and shows the unmet needs of some populations.

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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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