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. However, I have followed developments in genetic testing for cancer risk with interest over the last several years. And I’ve been struck by how much we’re learning and how much more we seem to know about inherited cancer risk than was the case maybe even five or ten years ago.

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

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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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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Top Cancer Research Stories: Early Summer 2014

Daylily in early summer gardenThis is the latest post in a bi-monthly series where we take a look at several of the most interesting cancer research stories that have come out over the previous two months. These are a few of the recent stories that seem to have the greatest potential impact, at least from my perspective, and that I know I’ll want to follow as they develop further.

In early May, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held its annual meeting in Chicago. In the area of breast cancer treatment, this meeting included reports on several interesting studies about ways that patients can benefit from new uses of existing drugs.

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Breast Cancer: Where Are We After Twenty Years?

on_the_roadI recently came across a copy of a letter I wrote back in 1994, about a year after my breast cancer diagnosis, to members of a congressional committee that was considering the budget for the following year. Here is part of what I had written:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1993 at age 35, although I was considered to be at low risk for getting the disease…I read with great interest that researchers are finding some promising new leads in their study of this and other types of cancer. Discovery of the causes of and cure for cancer may not be far way, but it all depends on our continued strong commitment to providing appropriate levels of funding for basic research.

The paragraph above still represents essentially where we are today, twenty years later. That is, we continue to hear about promising new leads yet we still know little about the causes of cancer and certainly don’t have a cure. Continue reading

My Breast Cancer Story

A breast cancer diagnosis at age 35 would affect the course of my life's journey for quite some time.Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of hearing, at age 35, that I had breast cancer.

One day in the early summer of 1993, I noticed a lump in my right breast. I had two immediate but rather contradictory reactions: “this can’t be anything” and “this has to get checked out”.

I actually put the matter out of my mind until an already-scheduled routine doctor’s appointment about two weeks later, not being willing to even process the notion that there could really be a problem. But that appointment was to change the course of my life’s journey for quite some time.

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