Tag Archives: Breast

This Device Might Help Find Signs of Breast Cancer—but Do You Really Need It?

[brightcove:5522456484001 default]

We’re all afraid of breast cancer. Let’s get that out in the open right off the bat. It's understandable, considering that breast cancer is the leading type of cancer and the second-highest cause of cancer death (after lung cancer) in women.

Naturally, most of us want to do whatever we can to lower our risk of breast cancer or to catch it early, when it’s easiest to treat. That goal has fueled years of debate over when women should start going for regular mammograms and how often to get them. Personally, after years of reporting on breast cancer screening and other medical exams, I'm leery of looking too hard for something—a concept experts call over-testing, which can lead to over-diagnosis.

RELATED: 9 Things to Know Before Your First Mammogram

Now, there's an at-home device that supposedly can give women even more information about their boobs. The device, called the Pink Luminous Breast, is kind of like a high-tech flashlight. When a woman presses it against her skin, a red LED light illuminates her breast tissue. With your boob aglow, you’re supposed to be able to spot clusters of new blood vessels (called angiogenesis) which can, in some cases, be a sign of possible cancer. Should a women spot shadows or clusters when using the device, she can bring that information to a doctor to see if her breasts warrant further testing.

"We want to inspire an awareness lifestyle,” says Pink Luminous Breast founder Marylin Dans. After having a nodule in her breast removed at age 17, she’s always been extra careful with her breast health, she explains. “I think you should keep it next to your electric toothbrush, turn off the lights, and check yourself every so often. It motivates you to do more self-exams and allows you to feel a little more secure.”

But doctors are skeptical. “I don’t think too many radiologists would recommend this as any sort of screening method,” says Janna Andrews, MD, a breast and gynecological cancer specialist and assistant clinical professor of radiation medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in New York. Because it’s categorized as a class one medical device by the FDA, it can be sold without the stringent clinical testing required of medical devices that can actually diagnosis or treat a condition, Dr. Andrews explains. “We don’t have any evidence of its efficacy or how it compares to mammography,” she says.

RELATED: 9 Breast Cancer Symptoms That Aren’t Lumps

If illuminating your breast did turn up abnormalities, you'd still need a mammogram to know what those irregularities mean. “This is not under the guidance of anybody who is trained,” says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at Orlando Health Hospital in Florida. If everything looks all-clear with the device, you might be tempted to skip a visit to the doctor. “It may give a false sense of security," she says. "I wouldn’t want anybody to miss anything.”

The device could also cause unnecessary concern. “Clinical breast exams are no longer encouraged because of false positives,” Dr. Andrews explains. Monthly breast exams find too many suspicious lumps that turn out to be nothing to worry about. “I have to think that something like this could potentially lead to more false positives as well.”

Instead, experts recommend sticking to routine mammograms and getting familiar with your breasts the old fashioned way–with your hands. If you feel a lump or notice other changes in your breasts, it’s always worth bringing up with a professional. “If you notice something is feeling a little different than it always has, you can inform your doctor about that,” Dr. Greves says. “Just be aware of your breasts so you can be the first one to know if there’s a change.”

RELATED: All the Ways Your Boobs Change as You Age

The Pink Luminous Breast website says the device “is intended to be a breast health familiarity assistance tool,” something that could help you in the process of getting to know your girls. Personally, I don't see the need to spend $ 149 on a breast health familiarity assistance tool when I have two hands, but Dans disagrees. “I feel awkward doing it—it’s weird to touch yourself,” she says. “What Pink does is it gives you the ability to use a second sense—your eyes—and look underneath your skin.”

I decided to give it a hesitant try. After charging the device for a few minutes, I turned off the lights in my bathroom and bumped up the brightness on the Pink Luminous Breast.

The resulting sorta-creepy red illumination made me feel like I was a passenger on Ms. Frizzle's Magic School Bus. I checked out a few different vantage points, pausing as I looked at shadowy veins, all of which seemed pretty normal to me. Still, I found myself becoming a little queasy about peering into my body so intimately. So I powered down the device, feeling more awkward about looking at blood vessels than I do about feeling myself up.  

I still have more than a decade to decide when to have my first mammogram. But a mammogram—or at least an appointment with a doctor—is the only way to figure out what to do with the information gleaned from using the Pink Luminous Breast. Trying it out left me wondering what would have happened if I was more of a worrier about my breast cancer risk. Would I have booked an appointment for the following day? 

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

In most women with an average risk of breast cancer, screening doesn’t start until at least age 40 and sometimes later. But Pink Luminous Breast’s website says women over 25 should start using the device. “Even in a woman with a very high risk of breast cancer, we typically don’t recommend starting screening before age 30,” Dr. Andrews says. That’s because women in their 20s have just a 0.1% risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, according to the American Cancer Society. For women in their 30s, that number rises to just 0.5%. Younger women also have denser breasts, which might obscure the view. “I would have to think it would not be as effective in dense breasts,” Dr. Andrews says.

For now, I'm sticking to old-fashioned, device-free breast familiarity. Both Dr. Andrews and Dr. Greves expressed gratitude that Pink Luminous Breast wants to help women, but they didn't think it built a strong enough case to ignore current standards of care just yet. Bottom line, says Dr. Greves: “We can’t recommend or endorse a product that’s not fully regulated or FDA approved.”


www.health.com/breast-cancer/pink-luminous-breast “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

Husband of Bride Who Died of Breast Cancer 18 Hours After Hospital Wedding Speaks Out

Many couples go into their wedding day dreaming of a lifetime of love. But Heather and David Mosher of East Windsor, Connecticut, knew that what should have been a new beginning for them, was going to be the end.

Heather, 31, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and David, 35, wed at Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, on Dec. 22. Heather died just 18 hours later. Her last words were the vows she recited to her husband.

“It was the hardest day of my life. Especially the 45 minutes or so of the service itself,” David tells PEOPLE. “As we were approaching the ceremony, it just had this feeling like it was more of a funeral than it was a wedding because I knew my time with her was coming to an end.”

“I just bawled through the whole ceremony and, for me, it was such a sad occasion, because I knew I wouldn’t see her again,” he adds. “When someone’s your soulmate, you’re never the same when you lose that part of yourself. There’s a part of me that died when she died.”

Heather was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer on Dec. 23, 2016, the same day David asked her to marry him.

“I had been planning to propose to her that night anyway, even before the diagnosis,” he says. “I wasn’t gonna let that change my decision to marry her.”

Over the next year, he watched her health deteriorate as the cancer spread throughout her body to her brain. Still, David and Heather were determined to marry each other.

“We had known even before I proposed that we were soulmates … it was just something that was important to us,” he said of their plans to marry despite Heather’s illness. “We already called each other husband and wife, but we just felt that we deserve a chance to celebrate that in front of our friends and family.”

Heather spend the final months of her life at the hospital, where doctors advised the couple to move up their wedding date. They had originally planned a Dec. 30 wedding, but hospital officials warned the couple that Heather likely would not make it until then.

In emotional photos of the ceremony, Heather is shown in her hospital bed wearing a wedding gown and veil along with a breathing mask. Still, she smiled and lifted her hands as family and friends surrounded her.

“She was just so happy and triumphant, because she knew that in a way she had beat cancer because she lived longer than anyone thought she was going to,” David says. “She made it to her wedding day, which was her biggest goal. Cancer couldn’t take that away from her.”

They originally planned to get married at a local church, but just two days before the ceremony, they knew they had to plan for a hospital wedding. Heather died at 12 p.m. on Dec. 23 and the family held her funeral on Dec. 30 at 11 a.m. at the church — the same date, time and place the couple originally planned to get married.

“Here I am giving a eulogy for my wife, yet that was the moment I was actually supposed to be reciting my vows to her,” David says. “I’m up at the podium next to the altar of the church and I was an emotional mess, but I made it through the eulogy.

“It took everything I could just to get through that. The more I thought about how this is supposed to be our wedding day and instead I’m saying goodbye to her was just, they don’t make words to describe how that feels”


www.health.com/syndication/husband-cancer-patient-wedding-dies-heather-mosher “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

American Airlines tried to charge a mother $150 for traveling with breast milk

American Airlines tried to charge a mother $  150 for traveling with breast milkHow is it that airlines keep screwing up simple things like company policy and established TSA rules? The latest travel blunder belongs to American Airlines. When Sara showed up with her husband and young son for their flight from Boston to Arizona, the gate attendant stopped them for having too many bags and tried to charge them a $ 150 fee to check a cooler filled with frozen breast milk. SEE ALSO: Some jerk just diverted a flight by naming his hotspot 'bomb on board' Salow told ABC 15 that she and her husband had shown up with four carry-on items: a stroller, a diaper bag, a backpack, and the aforementioned cooler. "I'm like, 'This is a diaper bag, which I thought was exempt; [that backpack is] his personal item and we have the cooler — I didn't have a personal item,'" Salow told ABC 15. Most airlines — including American — allow passengers to travel with one carry-on and one "personal item," which for most people usually amounts to a small suitcase and a backpack, briefcase, or purse. Additionally, Salow told the news station that she'd looked into what she could bring with her ahead of time. American Airlines exempts certain items from the carry-on policy, including strollers, diaper bags.  Further, TSA rules exempt breast milk from the "no liquids" policy, and American recognizes that — though ABC 15's report notes that the airline's website didn't specifically list breast milk as exempt until Dec. 14. Despite all of that, Salow told ABC 15 that the gate attendant tried to make her pay a $ 150 fee to check the cooler. "We were pretty mad. I immediately started crying," she said. "It was humiliating, they kept telling us it was because we were basic economy passengers; it really felt demeaning." The couple ended up leaving their cooler behind. The airline later issued a statement in response to the incident, apologizing to Salow. WATCH: This suitcase can transform into a stroller for your child



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

Mom with Breast Cancer and Daughter with Alopecia Pose Bald Together in Emotional Photo Shoot

[brightcove:5641903861001 default]

This article originally appeared on People.com.

Kristi Tavenner and her 7-year-old daughter Rose have a special message: “Bald is beautiful.”

Tavenner, who has breast cancer, and Rose, who has alopecia, proudly showed off their looks in a sweet mother-daughter photo shoot recently, in a display that quickly went viral.

“Both of these gorgeous ladies are bald for different reasons,” Kellie, of Kellie Rose Photography, wrote of the women in a post on the Love What Matters Facebook page. “Rose began going out fully bald when all her hair fell out a few years ago.”

She adds: “It was beautiful to hear from Kristi about how Rose helped her to be brave when she began to lose her hair during chemotherapy treatments.”

In the shots, Tavenner and little Rose are shown smiling and laughing as they embrace each other in the photos. Both wore earrings and floor-length gowns.

“They are two of the most beautiful people I’ve met, inside and out,” Kellie added. “They are here to show everyone that BALD IS BEAUTIFUL!”

Tavenner was diagnosed with breast cancer in April.

“Kristi and I had become good friends in the past year, and after she found out that she was going to have to undergo chemotherapy treatments after her full mastectomy, we were just talking about how she felt about losing her hair,” Kellie tells PEOPLE.

“While she felt understandably a little scared about it, she also felt like it might be a special way to bond and relate to her daughter who has alopecia”

It seems Tavenner has long drawn on her daughter’s strength. In an April Facebook post, the doting mother wrote that Rose lost all her hair in 2016 — “She hasn’t let this disease slow her down and will only grow stronger,” she wrote.

“Thanksgiving 2015 I noticed 2 bald spots the size of a quarter on the back of her head,” Tavenner continued. “In 4 months she went from full head of gorgeous hair to completely bald … In the end, our beautiful Rose still shines like a star and loves to the fullest.”


www.health.com/syndication/mom-breast-cancer-daughter-alopecia-photo-shoot “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

12 Things That Probably Don’t Increase Breast Cancer Risk

We expose the myths, urban legends, and old wives' tales surrounding what causes breast cancer.

www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20853774,00.html “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

6 Causes of Lumps That Aren’t Breast Cancer

It's probably not cancer–but that doesn't mean you can ignore a lump in your breast.

www.health.com/breast-cancer/lump-in-breast-causes “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

College Student with Breast Cancer Underwent Treatment Without Missing a Single Class

[brightcove:5522487361001 default]

This article originally appeared on People.com.

Colleen Cappon’s senior year of college was different than most. While she lived in an apartment with her friends, stayed up late doing homework and went to parties on campus, the then 21-year-old had another side of her life that made her very different from the average college student.

Every other weekend, she left school to drive two hours from campus to her hometown of Watertown, New York, where she would undergo chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

Just weeks before Cappon began her senior year at the State University of New York at Cortland in 2007, she was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. That summer, while she was getting ready for a night out with friends, doing what she calls the “boob scoop” into her bra, she felt a lump in her breast. A bit alarmed but not overly concerned, Cappon thought she should see a doctor just in case. At her subsequent doctor’s appointment, she had an ultrasound done. The doctor told her it was likely just a fibroadenoma — a mass of dense cells. She recommended that when Cappon came back over winter break, she get the mass removed.

But something felt off to Cappon, and she thought, “Why wait until Christmas?” She still had a month to go before heading back to school, so she decided to have it removed. “I can’t really explain it,” she tells PEOPLE of her gut instinct.

The mass was removed and then tested per standard procedure. And as she soon found out, Cappon’s instincts might have saved her life: The test revealed she had breast cancer.

At the time of her diagnosis, Cappon, who is now 31 and living in Albany, New York, was set to start her senior year of college. She had her class schedule, her lease signed on an apartment with friends and she didn’t want to give up that experience.

But she had to start treatment — and the sooner, the better. So Cappon devised a plan with her doctors. Every other Thursday night, she’d drive the two-hour distance from campus to her parents’ house. On Friday, she’d undergo chemotherapy, spending the rest of the weekend at home to recover before heading back to school on Sunday evening.

“I’m a very social person,” she says of her choice to stay in school while undergoing chemotherapy. “I knew if I missed out on this, it was not going to be good for my mental health during my treatments. And they say that’s the half of it, the attitude and positive environment and everything.”

She spoke with each of her professors about the situation, and confirmed with her academic advisor that she’d be able to schedule her classes on Monday through Thursday. Everyone was supportive, she says, and professors told her not to stress about deadlines and assignments — they’d be happy to accommodate any schedule changes she needed. But Cappon didn’t want to be accommodated: She made it through her whole senior year without missing a single class or assignment.

“I’m such a stubborn person, and it kind of pissed me off that this was even happening in the first place, so I made it a point to be like, ‘No, I’m not going to miss any classes. I’m not going to miss any exams, I’m going to do all my homework assignments,'” she said. “And I did.”

Though she was making frequent trips home each month for chemotherapy, Cappon was able to retain much of her “normal life” at school, she says. She even went to parties when she was feeling up to it.

Cappon finished her four months of chemotherapy in December 2007. That same month, she underwent a double mastectomy, an experience that turned more emotional than she was expecting. She went on to have reconstructive surgery in May 2008.

“I almost had been looking forward to [the mastectomy], because after all this treatment, and having cancer, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to get rid of this part of my body that had the cancer in it, and I’m going to feel so much better,’ ” she says. “And a big part of me did feel better after the surgery, but there’s also a big part that feels almost a little resentful. Especially at 21 years old. Let’s be real, your breasts look the best they’re ever going to look, and I’m getting rid of them.”

But for Cappon, the timing of her diagnosis wasn’t the hard part. In fact, she views it as something positive, despite her young age. In college, she had more time to relax and sleep than she would have had she been working a full-time job. And since she was living with her friends, there were constant distractions from the cancer.

“It was a great situation to be in, honestly,” Cappon says. “I was never alone, I didn’t have a job yet, I could nap between classes whenever I felt like it.”

What was difficult, she says, was the uncertainty that came along with getting a diagnosis that so few women her age had received. Not only was it isolating, but it came with medical hurdles, too. She consistently found questions left without an answer: Her doctors couldn’t tell her if she’d suffer common side effects, or if she’d be able to have children after her treatment was over.

“There were a lot of unanswered questions,” she says. “There were a lot of questions about the side effects. I was told one time, ‘We’re not sure if your hair is going to fall out, because you’re so young, maybe your body will react differently.’ “

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question was about her fertility. Unlike many young women with breast cancer, Cappon wasn’t able to freeze her eggs before starting treatment because of how aggressive her tumor was.

“You don’t really care or think about having kids when you’re 21, until someone says you might not be able to,” she says. “They just said, ‘We’re going to give you this treatment, and we don’t really know what your future is going to be like. Let’s just concentrate on surviving this first,’ ” she says. “I go off the medicine in January, and it’s really just a toss-up.”

It’s a tough future for a 21-year-old to face. Cappon is now married to her college boyfriend, who she was dating during her cancer treatment. She says that at the time, she was open with him about the possibility that she wouldn’t be able to have children one day, and told him that she’d understand if he ended their relationship. “In the beginning, I said, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen with this kids thing. If you want out, I understand,’ ” she says.

Her boyfriend didn’t want out, and encouraged her to go through with the double mastectomy. His support brought a level of relief to the experience, she says.

“I feel a little guilty about it sometimes, because I had a boyfriend throughout the whole time that was encouraging me to do everything I could to make sure I came alive out on the other side of this,” she says. “Other young women who don’t have a serious boyfriend and are out in the dating world, who’ve had mastectomies, that has to be really tough, and weigh on your decision to get the surgery.”

Almost 10 years later, they’re hoping to start a family in the near future and they’re discussing her going off the drug Tamoxifen, which she has been on for the past decade in hopes of reducing the risk of the cancer coming back. For the first time, having a family is a real possibility within sight. Whether she’ll be able to, however, is unknown. She’s still not sure if she’ll be able to have children once she’s off the medication. She was one of the first women her age to go on the drug for a 10-year period, she says, and was told back in 2007 that they’d simply have to wait and see if it would affect her ability to have children.

“Again, more uncertainty,” she says. “But at least I’m here.”

In the years since her first post-chemo and surgery screening showed no evidence of cancer in May 2008, Cappon has connected with many other young women with breast cancer, something that she says has been “really rewarding.”

“I remember really clearly when I was diagnosed feeling like there was no one I could find at my age who had done this and came out okay on the other side, leading a healthy, normal life,” she says. “You’ve just gotta keep your chin up and remember you’re going to come out on the other side.” 


www.health.com/syndication/college-senior-breast-cancer “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

Breast Cancer May Return Even 20 Years Later, Researchers Find

Breast Cancer May Return Even 20 Years Later, Researchers FindBreast cancer can “smolder” and return even 20 years later unless patients keep taking drugs with debilitating side effects to suppress it, researchers reported.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

22-Year-Old Woman Discovers Breast Cancer Lump After Dropping Necklace Down Her Shirt

[brightcove:5522509904001 default]

This article originally appeared on People.com.

When Leslie Almiron discovered a lump in her breast in 2016, it was by accident. The pendant on her necklace had fallen off and landed in her bra. When the then 22-year-old reached in to retrieve it, she felt her hand brush up against something. At first, she didn’t think much of it and hopped in the shower. But while she was showering, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. So she felt around again, and this time, she couldn’t deny that there a lump.

Almiron immediately called her mom and asked her what to do. Her mother wasn’t too concerned — after all, Almiron was only 22 — but she suggested she call her doctor to make sure. The doctor wasn’t very worried either, considering her age and history, but advised her to come in.

That initial doctor’s visit led to an ultrasound and then a recommendation to make an appointment with a breast surgeon. But even then, the idea that it could be cancer didn’t weight too heavily on Almiron’s mind. Her doctor didn’t even mention the word, she says.

“Now that I think about it, it did take a long time,” Almiron, now 24, tells PEOPLE of the ultrasound. “But I was just completely unaware of what was going on. I was just laying on the table, perfectly fine.”

The thought that the lump could be cancerous didn’t occur to Almiron until she was getting it biopsied, and she saw the physician assistant’s face go white as she took a closer look. But they couldn’t tell her if it was cancer until her official test results came back the following week.

“I spent the whole weekend borderline freaking out, and then thinking there was just no way that this could happen,” she says.

The following week, she got the call: It was cancer — stage 3 — and they needed her to come in as soon as possible for more tests. Almiron went on to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy.

Almiron’s diagnosis at such a young age may be rare, but it’s far from unheard of. Though typically associated with older women, about 70,000 women and men under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, according to the Young Survival Coalition. And every year, the disease kills 1,000 women in the same age group — a lower survival rate compared to those over 40. Young women generally face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates, and evidence suggests that breast cancer before age 40 differs biologically from the cancer faced by older women.

With these cases comes unique challenges. Jennifer Merschdorf, the CEO of the Young Survival Coalition (who herself was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36, the same year her mother was diagnosed at 66), says the organization’s goal is to help young women navigate these obstacles.

“Young women are starting or in the full swing of their careers,” Merschdorf tells PEOPLE. “They’re starting families. That’s very different than older women.”

The decision to get a mastectomy at such a young age is all the more difficult, and many women go into early menopause, according to Merschdorf.

For many women, the question of fertility and children is “huge” when they get a breast cancer diagnosis, Merschdorf says. Particularly if a woman hasn’t had children or isn’t even sure if she wants them in the future.

Almiron says she hadn’t given much thought to whether she wanted children prior to her diagnosis. So when her doctor suggested freezing her eggs, she was overwhelmed.

“I’m just freaking out,” she says. “I’m thinking ‘I have cancer, I’m not going to live to have children. Why do you want me to do this?’ “

Almiron had been with her boyfriend for four years, but they had just graduated college and were looking for their first jobs and hadn’t seriously spoken about children.

“I had to call him and say, ‘Hey, I have to freeze my eggs. Do you think you’re going to love me forever? Should we do embryos?’ ” she recalls. “That’s just a conversation I don’t need to be having at 22.”

At her doctor’s encouragement, Almiron ended up going forward with the egg preservation, and within days, she was getting hormone injections. She was able to freeze 26 eggs before she started her treatment.

There may be about 70,000 new cases every year, but finding fellow young people living with breast cancer is tough. Especially for those who live outside of an urban area. And though support groups for breast cancer patients exist all over the country, if they’re filled with older woman, it often can make a young patient feel isolated.

Once, when Almiron was checking into to a support group, the leader told her to wait outside for her mom, assuming she was the daughter of a patient, not a patient herself.

“She eventually stopped going after she says she realized “this just isn’t going to make me feel better.”

Comfort can be found in organizations that are geared towards those living with cancer who are in their age group. The Young Survival Coalition hosts an annual conference called the National Summit for survivors to come and meet one another. And Almiron met fellow young cancer survivors through a group called Stupid Cancer, where she made immediate connections with survivors her own age.

 

“We clicked right away, and it’s a friendship that you’d think we would have been friends for years,” she says of one of the friends she made through Stupid Cancer. “It’s like, ‘I know exactly what you’ve been through.’ “

And for young women, financial and logistical problems that come with a cancer diagnosis can be even more pronounced. As Merschdorf says: “It’s not like in your twenties you’ve saved this huge nest egg that you can use to offset these huge medical expenses.”

For Almiron, who is a DACA recipient, the ability to pay her medical bills presented its own problems. Before getting her first job a year before her diagnosis, she didn’t have health insurance. And because she had no way to get insurance without a job, she had to continue working while she was going through treatment. The only time she took off was when she was recovering from her double mastectomy, and was, in her words “flat broke.”

“I couldn’t afford to get kicked off my insurance,” she says. “It was like, ‘Tough luck, you have to deal with it.’ And that was my attitude. I have to go to work bald, sweating and in pain. It sucks.”

She credits DACA for saving her life: “If I had been diagnosed two years before when I didn’t have insurance, I don’t know what I would have done.”

When asked what she would want a young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer to know, Almiron says, “It gets better.”

“The finish line will move, and it’s going to change, and it’s not going to be over when you think it’s over, or when you want it to be over, but there is an end,” Almiron says. “It’s coming. Just hang in there.”


www.health.com/syndication/young-women-breast-cancer “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

5 Things to Know About Tamoxifen, the Breast Cancer Drug Jill Goodacre Has Been Taking Since Her Surgery

[brightcove:5522509904001 default]

In this week’s issue of People, former Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre opens up about her five-year battle with breast cancer and the medication she’s been on to keep the disease at bay. Goodacre, who’s married to singer and actor Harry Connick Jr., went through surgery and radiation in 2012 after a tumor was detected via sonogram, and has taken the drug tamoxifen ever since.

As she approaches her five-year cancer-free mark, Goodacre says she’s looking forward to stopping tamoxifen. The medication can cause side effects, including weight gain, which Goodacre admits she’s struggled with.

“I’ve always been a pretty fit person, and so to be just rounder and heavier and not to really be able to do much about it—that’s been hard,” she told People. “It’s taken a lot out of my self-confidence.”

That’s a common problem among breast cancer survivors, says Nikita Shah, MD, medical director of the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. (Dr. Shah has not treated Goodacre, but does prescribe tamoxifen to many of her own patients.)

Still, tamoxifen can be lifesaving, says Dr. Shah, and for many women, its benefits outweigh its potential side effects. Here’s what else breast cancer patients and their loved ones should know about the pros and cons of this treatment.

It can be a treatment or a prevention

Tamoxifen is in a class of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs. These drugs work by attaching to estrogen receptors in breast cells, blocking estrogen’s ability to cause cell mutations that lead to cancer.

The drug—taken as a pill or a liquid—is often prescribed to pre-menopausal women after surgery for early-stage breast cancer. Because surgeons can’t always be sure they removed all of the cancer cells, tamoxifen can reduce the risk that those leftover cells will continue to multiply and the cancer will return.

It can also be prescribed to women, pre- or post-menopause who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, if they have a high risk (1.67% or higher) of developing it over the next five years. These women are usually 35 or older, and have risk factors such as a family history of cancer or a history of abnormal biopsies.

RELATED: The 5 Breast Cancer Stages, Explained

It’s only effective for some types of cancer

Studies have shown that tamoxifen can reduce the risk of cancer in high-risk women by more than 30%. But because the drug affects estrogen receptors in the body, it only works against cancers that are estrogen-receptor-positive or progesterone-receptor positive. Together, these make up about two-thirds of all breast cancers, according to BreastCancer.org.

“The way tamoxifen works is you’re depriving your cancer cells of estrogen, which is their nutrition,” says Dr. Shah. “So that will only work for the cancers that are estrogen-fed or progesterone-fed.”

RELATED: 25 Breast Cancer Myths Busted

Other factors can affect how well it works, too

Some people have an abnormal version of an enzyme called CYP2D6, which may make tamoxifen less effective. (Some research has suggested this, although larger, more recent studies haven’t found a link.) Patients may want to consider being tested for this enzyme abnormality before starting tamoxifen, to make sure they’ll get the full benefit.

Certain medications, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cimetidine (Tagamet), and some antidepressants can also block the activity of the CYP2D6 enzyme. "That's why it's very important to make sure your oncologist knows every medication you're taking, including supplements," says Dr. Shah. 

Five years is recommended, but 10 years may be better

After breast cancer treatment, most women who take tamoxifen take it for five years. But recent studies have suggested that it can reduce women’s risk for breast cancer even further if it’s taken for 10 years, says Dr. Shah.

However, tamoxifen is only recommended after breast cancer treatment for women who haven’t gone through menopause yet; after menopause, other drugs—called aromatase inhibitors—are known to work better. “If a woman becomes post-menopausal during those five or 10 years she’s on tamoxifen, we will switch her to this other group of drugs that is 20 to 25% more effective,” says Dr. Shah.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

It does have side effects—but they may be overestimated

Despite its protective effects against cancer, some women stop taking tamoxifen because of side effects like hot flashes, mood swings, nausea, vomiting, or weight gain or loss. The drug can cause menstrual irregularities, and changes in sex drive or sleep patterns as well. (Tamoxifen also raises the risk for more serious health issues, like blood clots and uterine cancer; though for most women, the overall risk for these problems is still small.)

But many women who take tamoxifen are perimenopausal, and a recent study found that some women mistake naturally occurring symptoms of menopause with side effects of tamoxifen. In the study, symptom-related drop-out rates were similar across a nearly five-year period for women who took tamoxifen and for those who took a placebo pill.

“Patients will say I started taking tamoxifen and I gained 40 pounds,” says Dr. Shah. “But that’s probably a combination of hormonal and lifestyle changes they’re going through. Tamoxifen can cause some fluid retention, and it could maybe cause a 2- or 3-pound weight gain, but beyond that there are probably other things going on as well.”

Dr. Shah says it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing side effects, rather than stopping a recommended course of tamoxifen. “There are ways to manage the side effects, and most of them are not permanent. They get better with time,” she says.


www.health.com/breast-cancer/tamoxifen-side-effects-jill-goodacre “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com