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5 Breast Cancer Research Updates

It’s been an exciting year in breast cancer research with a number number of recent advances that will help prevent, detect and treat the disease women dread so much. Click through to read more.

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It’s easy to lose heart in the fight against breast cancer, but new research provides a source of hope.

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Hope for Tough Cases

Relatively few drugs work against “triple negative” breast cancer — tumors lacking receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2. But a new category of drug called PARP inhibitors may change that. In a study of patients with advanced breast cancer, getting a PARP inhibitor along with chemo increased survival time by 50 percent — a striking improvement if it holds up in further studies, researchers say.

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A Key to Better Screening

The classic risk factors for breast cancer include family history, age, and whether you’ve had kids. But a major review of studies concludes that you’ll get a better estimate of a woman’s vulnerability after menopause if you also consider the density of her breast tissue. “Density is more important than any other risk factor besides age,” says researcher Steven Cummings, MD, at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco. Ask your doctor if your mammogram indicates dense tissue. If it does, a digital mammogram may help — it’s more accurate for dense breasts.

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More Help After Recurrence

If breast cancer comes back, many doctors repeat the original treatment. Now research shows that could be a mistake. In the study, 29 patients whose cancer was thought to have metastasized got a biopsy of the suspicious tissue. In 40 percent, the tumor showed significant changes; in 20 percent, the difference was enough to prompt a switch in therapy, says lead author Mark Clemons, MD, of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. If you have a recurrence, talk to your doctor about getting a new biopsy before settling on treatment.

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Rethinking Prescriptions

Many women who take tamoxifen to prevent a return of breast cancer also take an antidepressant. But the mood med may cancel out tamoxifen’s disease-fighting benefits, findings indicate. The research suggests that some antidepressants hinder the action of an enzyme that’s key to tamoxifen’s functioning. In the study, cancer returned in 16 percent of women taking tamoxifen plus Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft — but recurred in only 7.5 percent of women on tamoxifen alone. Celexa, Lexapro, and Luvox didn’t raise the risk. More research is needed, but some experts recommend that women consider switching drugs to play it safe until more is known.

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Pain That Protects

Here’s welcome news for women with migraines: They may face a 26 percent lower risk of breast cancer, suggests a multicenter study of more than 9,000 women. Migraines seem protective even if a woman takes drugs to prevent or treat them, say scientists.