Genetic Testing for Cancer Risk: My Experience and What I Learned

On genetic testing for inherited mutations that increase risk for cancer.Earlier this year I made the decision to undergo genetic testing to find out whether I’ve inherited any genetic mutation that could increase my risk for a new breast cancer diagnosis or for other cancers.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was only in my mid-thirties. But that was in 1993 and, for a number of reasons, including having no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, I’ve never had genetic testing before.

Here’s what the experience was like for me and some of the helpful things I learned in the process. Continue reading

Cancer Risk and the Environment

The development of cancer is heavily influenced by external factors, a recent study finds.About a year ago, a study published in the journal Science received a lot of attention and comment because it seemed to suggest that most cancers were mainly the result of random mutations or “bad luck.”  I wrote about the study, including what commenters identified as some of its major weaknesses, in a post last January on Cancer Risk and “Bad Luck.”

A new study by a different team, published recently in Nature, revisits the question. It expands on the analysis in last year’s study and examines the question using several different approaches. It arrives at the conclusions that the development of cancer is heavily influenced by external factors. Continue reading

Preventing Breast Cancer With A Vaccine

Researchers are developing a vaccine to prevent breast cancer in healthy women.What if it were possible to give a safe and effective vaccine to healthy women to prevent breast cancer, or at least greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer? This is a question that some researchers are actively studying, with hopes of starting clinical trials for such a preventive vaccine within a couple of years.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) recently published a fifth annual report on its Artemis Project: For a Preventive Breast Cancer Vaccine. The Artemis Project has reached a turning point, according to the report. With decisions about possible targets for the vaccine having been made, the research team can now begin preclinical work to develop a vaccine that could potentially be tested in early phase clinical trials starting in 2017.

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Camp Lejeune, Environmental Toxins And Breast Cancer Risk

What are the links between environmental toxins and breast cancer risk?It’s recognized that environmental factors play a role in the development of many types of cancer, including breast cancer.  But, unfortunately, there are more questions than there are answers right now about the extent of that role. Studies so far have not been able to clarify how and to what extent exposures to harmful substances in the environment increase our risk for breast cancer.

An opportunity to gain some insight on this issue could potentially come from a study now underway of male breast cancer and exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  Results from the study are expected some time this year.

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Cancer Risk and “Bad Luck”

How much cancer risk is related mostly to random genetic mutations?Are a large proportion of cancer cases mainly the result of “bad luck”? That is certainly the impression given by recent media reports about a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and published in the journal Science.

What did the researchers do and what did this study actually show? Is it really time to reconsider our understanding of cancer and its causes? Continue reading

Review of “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History” by Florence Williams

In "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History," Florence Williams examines what it is about breasts that makes them so susceptible to cancer.The toll of breast cancer in terms of worldwide mortality has reached a stunning 521,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.

With this level of mortality, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women globally.

Yet, we still don’t know very much about what actually causes breast cancer. And knowing that it is the leading cause of cancer death for women seems to beg the question: what is it about breasts that make them so susceptible to cancer?

In “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History,” Florence Williams attempts to provide some insights into that question.

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