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Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women in the United States. Not only is breast cancer the most common type of cancer among American women, but it is also “the primary cause of death in women between the ages of 45 and 60” (Ozanne, Wittenberg, Garber, & Weeks, 2010, p. 38). Throughout the years there has been growing concern regarding prevention and treatment programs for breast cancer given the increased amount of reported cases, both nationally and internationally. For example, “in 2008, in the United States, there were an estimated 182,460 new cases of invasive breast cancer and an estimated 40,480 deaths attributed to it” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 743). Since 1975 there has been a consistent decline in breast cancer mortality rates due to improvements in terms of prevention and treatment. However, breast cancer is still a major concern for the medical community, with an estimated 1,300,000 cases reported, and 465,000 deaths attributed to breast cancer in 2007 (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 743). The paper discusses recent findings in breast cancer prevention research. Socioeconomic conditions, lifestyle, chemo-preventive drugs, medical tests/surgical procedures, and physician-patient communications are all important in breast cancer risk assessment and prevention.
Over the years, “epidemiological studies have demonstrated an increase in breast cancer incidence in women with higher socioeconomic status or higher level of education” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 746). These results are consistent with wealthier, more educated women given that higher socioeconomic status is associated with lower parity rates and delayed pregnancies (as these women are usually professionals that find it difficult to reconcile child bearing with their professional careers). Another major consideration that must be taken into account when discussing breast cancer incidence is women’s lifestyle. Physicians recommend all individuals at risk to pursue lifestyle modifications in order to potentiate their health. Among the most frequent recommendations stand the following: “healthy diet, adopting physically active lifestyle, achieving a healthy weight and maintaining it for life, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking, and minimizing duration of use of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 1070). Studies show positive correlations between alcohol consumption and breast cancer incidence. Smoking has been demonstrated to have a positive correlation with all types of cancer (including breast cancer). Finally, diets based on low-fat foods have been proven to help in lowering the risk of contracting breast cancer.
Leading a healthy lifestyle (eating healthily and even exercising) is a great way of preventing breast cancer, especially among women aged 35 or higher. Preventing breast cancer among women has become a priority, especially considering that it occurs 100 times more frequently in women (when compared to men). In 2008, for example, “1,900 new cases of breast cancer in men compared with 182,460 cases in women” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 744) were reported. Today, breast cancer statistics indicated that “12.7% of women born in the United States today will develop breast cancer sometime during their lifetime” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 743).
In light of such figures, scientific research has resulted in the development of various tests and medical procedures specifically designed to treat (and if possible, prevent) breast cancer. The first, and perhaps the most important, of these developments is the screening mammography, a test that has been statistically found to “decreases mortality rates by anywhere from 28% to 65%, depending on the statistical model used” (Sur & Milne, 2010, p. 577). There are, of course, other forms of preventive treatment, including the prophylactic mastectomy, which “has been shown to reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 90% in women at moderate-to-high risk for breast cancer” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, p. 1071). Chemo-preventive agents have also been found to be quite effective in diminishing the risk of incidence (at all levels) of breast cancer for women.
Finally, in order to correctly assess a woman’s risk of incidence and provide the adequate preventive treatment, physician-patient communications must be open, sincere, and fluid. Patients are generally eager to pursue any type of treatment that promises to prevent (or even cure) cancer. Such an attitude, although understandable, is also risky and in many ways reckless. All forms of treatment involve risks, and for the most part there are secondary effects associated with each of them. Due to this, despite clear indications of their efficiency, especially in preventing breast cancer among high-risk women, “widespread adoption of these interventions by primary care physicians, particularly the use of chemo-preventive agents, has been slow in coming” (Tirona, Sehgal, & Ballester, 2010, pp. 1074–1075). It is up to physicians to make sure that patients understand both the benefits and risks associated with each treatment option. As well, it is instrumental that an accurate assessment of each patient’s risk is done so that the best treatment option is pursued.
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Ever since the development of the screening mammography, scientific research has resulted in the development of several others risk assessment and risk prevention methods. Breast cancer is currently the most common kind of cancer among women (especially those aged 35 and above); it is one of the main causes of death that women all over the world face. Therefore, it becomes clear that preventing incidence is a priority. In achieving this goal the conducted research indicates that there are different factors that are important in breast cancer risk assessment and prevention, including lifestyle, medical procedures, physician-patient communications, and even socioeconomic conditions (namely education and income level).