The mental fog often experienced by breast cancer patients after chemotherapy might be due more to post-traumatic stress than to the cancer drugs, a new study suggests, in this report from Reuters.

“Patients who complain of cognitive problems may actually suffer from post-traumatic stress or other substantial psychological consequences of having cancer, which can be treated,” says Dr. Kerstin Hermelink from CCCLMU University Hospital of Munich, Germany.

“Physicians should therefore attentively listen to their patients who complain of cognitive impairment and try to understand their individual situation to find out what the patient needs,” she added.

The effects of chemotherapy on the brain – chemo-brain – have been blamed for the “brain fog” sometimes experienced by women with breast cancer, but similar symptoms have been reported by breast cancer patients who haven’t started their chemo yet and even by those whose treatment didn’t include chemotherapy, Hermelink and colleagues noted in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“Physicians should tell their patients that very subtle cognitive impairment is not only observed after chemotherapy but also in patients treated without chemotherapy, and even in patients who have not yet started any treatment for breast cancer at all,” she said.

“The brain is not a machine that delivers the same level of performance as long as it is not broken but its function – and in the long run also its structure – are affected by our actions and experiences. The diagnosis of a life-threatening illness like breast cancer comes as a shock to most patients, which may leave traces in the brain, even if they cope very well.”

Listen to breast cancer expert Dr. Jay Harness in his interview with Dr. Daniela Bota, Assistant Professor at UC Irvine Nerology School of Medicine, talks about chemo brain and how patients can use cognitive training to exercise their brain, to reverse the effects of chemo-brain, also known as brain fog.

Learn more by reading the full story in Reuters, and by reading the full report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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The US Food & Drug Administration approved the first ever cancer drug that treats specific genetic traits of the disease, rather than the part of the body in which the cancerous tumor is located, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The move is being hailed as a breakthrough that could change the future of cancer care.

It means patients can get more specific care, and could provide a lifeline to those who are not eligible for mainline treatment since their disease has spread.

The FDA announcement marks an important milestone, close to two decades in the making. Increasingly, cancer will no longer be identified, categorized and treated by the organ it inhabits, or in which it first gained its foothold. In a shift that is already underway, cancers will be known by — and treated for — the common genetic mutations that nurture and sustain them.

The approved drug, Keytruda, made by Merck & Co, also generically known as pembrolizumab, is a form of immunotherapy which targets solid tumors with a biomarker called microsatellite instability-high [MSI-H] or mismatch repair deficient [dMMR].

These biomarkers are common in colorectal, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancers, but may also appear in cancers of the breast, prostate, bladder, pancreas, thyroid gland and others.

In clinical trial evidence cited by the FDA this week, pembrolizumab induced complete or partial tumor shrinkage in about 40% of patients with one of 15 end-stage malignancies. And for 78% of those patients, that response lasted six months or more.

All of those patients had cancers with the genetic mutation that pembrolizumab is designed to target.

Learn more in the FDA announcement, or by reading the report in the Los Angeles Times.

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Drinking as few as one alcoholic beverage a day can increase your breast cancer risk, according to a new report released today by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund.

The good news is that the report also revealed a way to decrease the risk of breast cancer: vigorous exercise, as reported by ABC News.

The outcome that just a small amount of alcohol increases breast cancer risk was “surprising,” said the study’s lead author Anne McTiernan.

“Some other individual studies had suggested that risk only started with 2 drinks per day or more,” she said. “But this meta-analysis, where we combined results from many large cohort studies, was definitive.”

Learn more by reading the full research report, and media reports from additional sources such as The Washington Post.

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Imagine a bra that could help detect breast cancer.

Eighteen-year-old Julian Rios Cantu did more than imagine it.

He assembled a team and came up with a prototype.

Cantu’s research was inspired by his mother’s battle with the disease. Now he’s chief executive officer of Higia Technologies, a biosensors company devoted to early detection of breast cancer, in this media report from Healthline.com.

EVA, the breast cancer detection bra, looks much like any other bra.

But it’s equipped with 200 small tactile biosensors that map the surface of each breast. It monitors changes in texture, color, and temperature.

A woman would wear the bra for 60-90 minutes per week to compile the data. She would then receive the information on an app.

Healthline turned to Dr. Jay Harness for a reaction to this new technology. Dr. Harness is a breast cancer surgeon with the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in California.

Harness told Healthline that the bra appears to work by trying to detect temperature differences in the skin, secondary to increased blood flow, which is theoretically tied to a presence of cancer in the breast.

“We know that growth of cancers leads to increased blood flow,” he said.

“However, to be detected at the skin, these are more often advanced cancers. Stage 2 or stage 3,” he explained. “That said, it could still get women to the doctor earlier. It’s astounding to me that we still see in the United States, with all of our breast cancer detection efforts, women who arrive in physicians’ offices with large, palpable cancers in the breast that are stage 2 or stage 3.”

Although hopeful for the new technology, Dr. Harness cites both false positives and overconfidence as potential concerns:

“Infections and other issues in the breast could lead to a false positive,” cautioned Harness. “Conversely, it could absolutely give a false sense of security to a patient, which is my biggest concern. A patient at risk might start skipping mammograms, doctor visits, etc. False confidence is an immense concern.”

Although the bra is more likely to detect advanced, rather than early-stage cancer, Harness said in some areas of the world, that may still be an improvement.

“In countries where there are no organized early detection screening programs currently implemented, this may assist in getting women to physicians earlier,” he said.

Harness notes that more research is needed to confirm this. Also, strict scientific trials would be necessary before it could be introduced in the United States.

Learn more about the company behind EVA, the breast cancer bra, at this link, and by reading the full media report in Healthline.

Posted in Dr. Jay Harness Expertise, Early Detection, Emotional Reconstruction®, Information Strength, orange county breast cancer surgeon, orange county breast cancer surgery, Prevention, Research News, We Live You®: The Latest | Tagged , | Comments Off

The number of women living with advanced breast cancer is rising substantially in the United States, reflecting improved survival among all ages, according to a recently published study, as reported in The Washington Post.

The study found that between 1992 and 1994, and 2005 and 2012, the five-year survival rate among women under age 50 initially diagnosed with advanced disease doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent. The median survival time for that group increased from 22.3 months to almost 39 months. For women ages 50 to 64, the survival time grew from a little more than 19 months to almost 30 months.

The lead author, Angela Mariotto of the National Cancer Institute, called the findings “favorable” because they were partly due to longer survival times resulting from better treatments.

Learn more by reading the full story in The Washington Post, and by reading the study itself.

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Raylene Hollrah was 33, with a young daughter, when she learned she had breast cancer. She made a difficult decision, one she hoped would save her life: She had her breasts removed, underwent grueling chemotherapy and then had reconstructive surgery.

In 2013, six years after her first diagnosis, cancer struck again — not breast cancer, but a rare malignancy of the immune system — caused by the implants used to rebuild her chest, as Ms. Hollrah shares in this story from the New York Times.

“My whole world came crumbling down again,” said Ms. Hollrah, now 43, who owns an insurance agency in Hermann, Mo. “I had spent the past six years going to the oncologist every three months trying to keep cancer away, and here was something I had put in my body to try to help me feel more like a woman, and it gave me cancer. I thought, ‘I’m not going to see my kids grow up.’”

Her disease — breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma — is a mysterious cancer that has affected a tiny proportion of the more than 10 million women worldwide who have received implants. Nearly all the cases have been linked to implants with a textured or slightly roughened surface, rather than a smooth covering. Texturing may cause inflammation that leads to cancer. If detected early, the lymphoma is often curable.

Educate yourself by reading this riveting report from The New York Times, and in this F.D.A. update issued in March of this year.

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Fear of breast cancer is widespread, yet many women don’t realize that adopting protective living habits may help keep it at bay. The habits described in this story from the New York Times may also help to ward off other life-threatening ills, like heart disease and diabetes.

Further, the above video, hosted on the Dr. Jay Harness YouTube channel, Breast Cancer Answers, shares that The International Agency for Research on Cancer, offers that one third of all breast cancer in western countries could be eliminated if women ate a healthy diet and exercised regularly.

Women can, in fact, become quite proactive in decreasing their risk for contracting breast cancer, by deciding to act on factors such as improving diet, decreasing alcohol intake, and becoming active through exercise.

Learn more about steps any woman can take to lower their risk of breast cancer by reading the full story in the New York Times.

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Steven Katz, an internist at the University Michigan, researches how medical decisions are made. Over the last dozen years, he has surveyed 10,000 patients and their doctors to better understand how they discuss a diagnosis and decide to proceed, as discussed in this story from The Washington Post.

“Women have taught me a lot,” says Katz. Sorting out various options can be “very confusing and very tough.”

He has distilled what he has learned and offers the following suggestions for women suddenly confronted with breast cancer:

    Treatment decision-making is not a medical emergency. You may take time to make good decisions. Breast cancer expert Dr. Jay Harness [who led the development of the nation's first multidisciplinary breast cancer center at the University of Michigan in 1985] advises, “time is our friend.”

    Engage your doctors, by asking five basic questions:
    What are my options?
    What are the benefits and risk of these options?
    How likely are the benefits and risks of each option?
    What do you recommend and why?
    What are the next steps?

    Bring someone with you to your medical appointments.

    Have your doctor summarize his or her recommendations for you.

    Expect close clinical follow-up and coordination.

    Get a second opinion.

    Learn the best ways to manage treatment side effects.

Learn more about the details behind each suggestion in The Washington Post.

Posted in Doctor-Patient Relationship, Emotional Reconstruction®, Information Strength, We Live You®: The Latest | Tagged , | Comments Off