New breast can­cer care has saved mil­lions

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

In just three decades, the once mono­lithic ap­proach to di­ag­nos­ing and treat­ing breast can­cer has be­come more per­son­al­ized and less in­tru­sive — a trans­for­ma­tion that likely saved mil­lions of lives, ex­perts say.

From test­ing meth­ods adapted to an in­di­vid­ual’s level of risk, bet­ter drugs and se­lec­tive use of chemo­ther­apy, treat­ment is no longer a one-size-fits-all for some 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease ev­ery year.

“In the past few decades, we have wit­nessed ma­jor changes and im­prove­ments in the treat­ment of breast can­cer,” Justin Steb­bing, a pro­fes­sor in can­cer medicine at Im- pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, told AFP.

De­spite ad­vances, breast can­cer re­mains the lead­ing can­cer killer of women aged 20-59 world­wide. Ev­ery year the dis­ease claims more than half a mil­lion lives, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Tak­ing a bite out of this grim toll through bet­ter aware­ness is the goal of Oc­to­ber’s Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month, which will see the Eif­fel Tower glow pink, and a fash­ion show in Lon­don star­ring can­cer sur­vivors.

Much has changed since the 1980s, when mas­tec­tomy — or sur­gi­cal re­moval of the breast — was the go-to treat­ment for all types of breast can­cer.

To­day’s ap­proach prefers to tar- get just the tu­mor, called a lumpec­tomy.

Not only are bet­ter drugs avail­able, but doc­tors also have a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of dis­ease vari­a­tions be­tween pa­tients, re­quir­ing dif­fer­ent ther­a­pies.

The hor­mone treat­ment Ta­mox­ifen, for ex­am­ple, ef­fec­tive against 70 per­cent of breast can­cers, has be­come key in treat­ing pre-menopausal women since tri­als in the 1980s.

At the same time, an al­ter­na­tive called Anas­tro­zole is ef­fec­tive in women who have al­ready gone through menopause, said Aine McCarthy, a doc­tor and spokes­woman for char­ity group Can­cer Re­search UK.

Re­search in re­cent years has ques­tioned the cen­tral role of chemo­ther­apy in can­cer treat­ment, with a study this week in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine say­ing some women in the early stages of the dis­ease may not need it.

“In some low-risk pa­tients we know that (chemo­ther­apy) is of no use; in oth­ers, it is in­dis­pens­able,” said Ro­man Rouzier, a can­cer ex­pert at the In­sti­tut Curie re­search cen­ter in Paris.

While most de­vel­oped na­tions rec­om­mend reg­u­lar test­ing for women from about the age of 50, some ad­vise ear­lier ex­am­i­na­tion for those with breast can­cer in the fam­ily, or a gene mu­ta­tion that raises their risk.

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