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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Research

The following research focuses on new approaches to prevent and treat breast cancer:

Breast cancer and acrylamide

Acrylamide forms naturally during the cooking process of many baked and fried foods (such as breads, cereals, french fries, and potato chips). Acrylamide was classified as a probable human carcinogen based on the results of earlier animal studies that exposed animals to levels of acrylamide up to 100,000 times higher than normal. Several recent human studies, however, have shown no association between dietary acrylamide and risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer and HRT

The rate of new breast cancer cases declined rapidly in 2003. Researchers believe that this reduction may be related to a corresponding decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the same period. The drop in HRT prescriptions followed reports of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), which associated health problems with the long-term use of estrogen and progestin by postmenopausal women.

Breast cancer stem cells

Some scientists suspect that breast cancer stem cells initiate cancer's spread. (A stem cell is an unspecialized cell that can divide and make more stem cells or produce specialized cells, such as blood cells.) In 2007, U.S. scientists succeeded in growing breast cancer stem cells from normal tissue. This technique will enable scientists to study new drugs using samples that contain a higher percentage of tumor stem cells. Moreover, different laboratories using uniform stem cell samples will be able to compare their study results more reliably.

Environmental chemicals and breast cancer

Several environmental chemicals are associated with breast cancer:

  • Polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) are banned chemicals that were previously used in electrical equipment. Recent research shows that exposure to PCBs may increase the risk of breast cancer in women who are genetically susceptible to these chemicals.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are air pollutants from vehicle exhaust and combustion. Studies also indicate that exposure to PAHs increase a person's breast cancer risk.
  • There also is a possible breast cancer association that results from exposure to organic solvents (such as methanol and benzene) and dioxin (impurities that can be found in petroleum-derived herbicides).

Exercise and breast cancer

Recent studies of women with early stage breast disease found that:
  • Resistance exercise improves muscle strength, lean body mass, and self-esteem.
  • Aerobic exercise improves aerobic fitness, body fat percentage, and self-esteem.
  • Yoga improves a person's quality-of-life.

Green tea extract

Several studies indicate that detoxification enzymes (glutathione S-transferase or GST enzymes) may provide some cancer-fighting benefits. A recent study showed that healthy people who took caffeine-free green tea extract capsules had an increased production of detoxification enzymes. Note that commercially available green tea extracts are not required to meet the same strict concentration and purity standards as the green tea extract capsules used in the study.


A new study found that women who were hypnotized before breast cancer surgery needed less anesthesia, required less operating room time, reported less postoperative pain, and had smaller hospital bills.

Metastic breast cancer test

The presence or absence of breast cancer cells in underarm lymph nodes has been shown to be a powerful predictor of whether the cancer has spread. In 2007, the FDA approved the first molecular-based laboratory test for detecting whether breast cancer has spread (metastasized) to nearby lymph nodes. The GeneSearch BLN Assay detects molecules that are abundant in breast tissue but rare in a normal lymph node.

MRI identifies early breast cancer earlier than mammograms

A recent study suggests that MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is more powerful and accurate than mammograms at diagnosing breast cancer before it spreads. The American Cancer Society already recommends that high risk women get an MRI in addition to a yearly mammogram.

MYB gene

Estrogen has been found to stimulate the MYB gene, which is found in about 70% percent of all breast cancers and is known to promote cancer growth. The ability of estrogen to stimulate the MYB gene is not due to a mutation in the gene.

New chemotherapy drug for late-stage breast cancer

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration approved ixabepilone (Ixempra), a new chemotherapy drug for people who haven't responded to the current chemotherapy drugs. Ixempra belongs to a class of drugs known as epothilone analogs, which interfere with cell division and slow the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Protease inhibitors

Protease inhibitors are usually given to treat HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that leads to AIDS. Protease inhibitors also affect a protein involved in many cancer types. Three of six protease inhibitors tested on laboratory mice inhibited cancer cell growth. The protease inhibitor drug nelfinavir (Viracept) slowed the growth of both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant breast cancer cells. Initial clinical trials of nelfinavir have begun to test the drug on cancer patients.

Treatment resistance

Researchers have discovered that the XBP1 gene may be responsible for some resistance to antihormonal breast cancer treatments, such as tamoxifen. These research findings may make it possible to screen women for their responsiveness to these treatments and possibly lead to a technique to reverse resistance.

HRT and lobular breast cancer

New research indicates that three or more years of using combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal symptoms substantially increases a woman's risk of developing lobular breast cancer. Women are advised to use HRT for the shortest time possible at the lowest dose possible to relieve their menopausal symptoms.

Breast implants and infection

A recent breast cancer study indicates that women who have breast reconstruction using implants immediately after their mastectomies are twice as likely to develop infections as women who have breast reconstruction using their own tissue (tissue flap).