The Truth About BRCA Testing and Genetic Risk

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Cancer genetics has come a long way in the last two decades, leading to increased prevention and improved treatment options. Today, research is shining the light on why certain people have an increased risk for cancer. “It took us 20 years to get where we are today with the knowledge of BRCA1/2, but we are starting to find changes in other genes that are explaining a history of cancer in families,” says Huma Q. Rana, MD, clinical director for Dana-Farber’s Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention. “These new genes we’re identifying are likely to make a difference in prevention and …

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Lymphoma Survivor Tackles Breast Cancer While Helping Fellow Patients

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By Catherine Goff When you’re 21, the last words you expect to hear are “you have cancer.” But, that was exactly the news I received in 1976 after a routine trip to my college infirmary landed me in Boston Children’s Hospital with Hodgkin lymphoma. Thanks to new treatments developed through clinical trials and a summer undergoing radiation therapy at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), I was deemed cancer-free. While I wanted to say, “I beat it,” I knew the five-year mark was a big milestone for Hodgkin lymphoma patients, and I was nervous until I reached that goal. How much …

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Five Myths About Breast Cancer

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There’s a broad range of news and information about breast cancer online. That creates wonderful opportunities to learn about prevention, treatment, cures and recurrence. But it also means you may run into confusing misinformation and oversimplifications. Here are some popular misconceptions:   MYTH #1 Most breast cancer is hereditary. While it’s true that a woman’s risk factor for developing breast cancer doubles if a first-degree relative has the disease, this statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. In the vast majority of cases, breast cancer is not caused by an inherited gene defect (or mutation). Only 5 to 10 percent of breast …

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Ask the Expert: Q&A on Breast Cancer, Exercise and Diet

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jennifer Ligibel, MD, recently partnered with CancerConnect to answer questions about breast cancer, exercise and diet. Ligibel is an oncologist with the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. Q: I am currently on maintenance treatment for breast cancer and I need to lose weight. Do you have any tips for how I can start? A: People are most successful when they start with an attainable goal. Studies have shown that smaller amount of weight loss, 5-10 percent of your starting body weight, can have many benefits, even if people can’t lose 50 pounds. Keep …

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Webchat: The Latest in Breast Cancer Treatment and Research

With new approaches to therapy and increased understanding of the biology of cancer, breast cancer treatment has made significant progress in recent years. “I am personally very excited about what’s to come for breast cancer treatment,” says Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. “I think we will have drugs available in the clinic in the next several years that may have a dramatic impact on outcomes for women with breast cancer.” Winer discussed the latest in breast cancer treatment and research during a live video webchat …

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ASCO Recommends Tamoxifen for up to 10 Years

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Women with hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancer should be given the option to have adjuvant hormonal therapy for as long as 10 years, according to new guidelines issued today by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The updated guidelines reflect results from several large studies that showed women who took tamoxifen for 10 years had a lower risk of recurrence and a “survival advantage,” compared to women who took the drug for only five years. In a press release issued by ASCO, Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD, a breast oncologist with the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers …

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Creative Coping Through Photographs

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By Kat Caverly In the book “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient” Norman Cousins explains that creativity is an effective therapy. I devoured this book during one of my three-hour chemotherapy infusions of Taxol. I was filled with such hope. I knew then I would be fine. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. As my mind struggled on what to do with this cancer diagnosis, I instinctively reached for my camera. But instead of looking through the lens at a subject or scenery, I turned it on myself. In addition to keeping a daily written …

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Motherhood, Pregnancy and Breast Cancer

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While visiting her obstetrician in May 2012, 30-year-old Meghan Martin received life-changing news. The mother of two, who was seven-months pregnant with her third boy, learned she had breast cancer. “My first thoughts were: Will this baby live? Will I Live? Who is going to read bedtime stores?” Martin says. A day later, Martin began planning her treatment with the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. She had four doses of chemotherapy before giving birth to her “miracle baby,” Gavin. Martin continued her treatment a short while after …

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How to Cope with Side Effects of Aromatase Inhibitors

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Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are some of the most effective treatments for post-menopausal women with hormonally sensitive breast cancer, such as estrogen-positive breast cancer. Compared to tamoxifen, AIs like Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara are less likely to cause blood clots or raise the risk of endometrial cancer. The drug also helps reduce the risk of recurrence. However, AIs often come with side effects, including joint discomfort, bone loss, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Anne Kelly, MSN, NP, a nurse practitioner for the Breast Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber, provides some advice on how patients …

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When Should I Begin Regular Mammograms?

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For women weighing whether to have a mammogram for early detection of breast cancer, the findings of some recent studies can seem especially confusing. This month, a team of researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School published a review of recent mammography studies. They concluded that, for women in their 40s, the benefits of mammograms aren’t as great as they’re often touted to be, and the potential downsides – such as the likelihood of having a repeat screening or biopsy that doesn’t find cancer – are greater than for older women. The benefits of mammography vary with …

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