October 22, 2008

Fighting a Killer


My mother died of breast cancer, and my sister--who is five years older than I am--recently was diagnosed with early breast cancer. What should I do to reduce my chances of breast cancer?


About 10 percent of breast cancer occurrences are related to genetic factors. The two genes for breast cancer I and II, or BRCA I and II, can be screened. You should discuss this with your doctors. Even if you carry the genes, it is not certain you will get breast cancer, but you should be on high alert. Women with these genes are also at increased risk for ovarian cancer.
Detection of early breast cancer is usually done today by routine digital mammography, and we recommend it for all women over 40 years of age. A problem with mammography is that in younger women, who generally have dense breast tissue, it can miss the cancer, especially those cancers that do not have a calcified component. Because of this, other methods of breast cancer screening have been sought. We expect that as research provides clearer indications for their use, MRIs and other screening methodologies will become more commonly utilized.
Currently, for people without a strong family history or of average risk, mammography seems to be the standard screening method. In your case, though, you appear to be at increased risk. Mammography, when coupled with ultrasound, has been shown to have a 55 percent increased diagnostic yield, so probably it will become a much more utilized method of screening women who are at higher risk. Should you actually be shown to carry the BRCA I or II genes, the addition of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) screening, though costly and not as simple as ultrasound, is recommended, and helps in early detection.
Early detection is closely related to the best outcomes and much-reduced mortality. Women need to be strongly encouraged to undergo screening.
We continue to be saddened by women who decline therapies that can save their lives (and have been clearly documented to do so) in favor of untested, unproven, and often disastrous forays into such things as fruit and vegetable juicing. Fruits and vegetables play an important role in diet and possibly risk reduction, but they do not provide the solid treatment results documented with conventional therapy.


Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department; Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C., is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.
Send your questions to: Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or you may send your questions via e-mail to [email protected] While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend that you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.