Many breast cancer survivors have trouble remembering things, a problem that researchers attribute to stress, rather than to chemotherapy or radiation. Now comes research from Northwestern University linking physical activity to higher levels of self-confidence, lower distress and less fatigue, which in turn is associated with lower levels of perceived memory impairment. A Northwestern news release reports that when investigators looked at memory and exercise in breast cancer survivors in two studies: one in self-reported data for 1,477 women across the country; the other in accelerometers worn by 362 women, they found improved memory was linked to higher levels of physical activity in both groups. Breast cancer survivors who had higher levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity — brisk walking, biking, jogging or an exercise class — had fewer subjective memory problems.
First came questions about the wisdom of treating low-grade prostate cancer. Now comes a major epidemiological study–one that followed 100,000 women for 20 years– that raises similar questions about the effectiveness of treating very early stage breast cancer, known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C. I. S. The New York Times reports that researchers found that women whose early cancer was treated with lumpectomies or mastectomies had a chance of dying of breast cancer in the two decades after treatment of 3.3 percent, no matter which procedure they had, and they also had about the same as an average woman’s chance of dying of breast cancer. How can that be? D.CI.S. has long been believed to be a precursor of potentially deadly cancer. But wait, the researchers argue, if deadly breast cancers started out as D.C.I.S., the incidence of invasive breast cancers should have plummeted with rising detection rates, and it did not. Does that mean that tens of thousand of women are undergoing painful, traumatic and sometimes disfiguring surgeries that are unnecessary. More research, lots of debate, and possibly the re-education of many surgeons, are needed. Read the study here. Read commentary on the study here.
Can exercise really help to ward off breast cancer? Researchers at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque think so. The Wall Street Journal, reports that scientists at the school have been studying the cancer fighting effects of irisin, a hormone that is released from muscles after vigorous exercise. When the researchers tested genetically engineered irisin on aggressive breast-cancer cells and on nonmalignant breast cells, they found that irisin treatment reduced the number of malignant cells by 34 percent compared with untreated cells, but had no effect on nonmalignant cells. Cell migration, the Journal reports, the movement of cancer cells to new sites, was reduced by 51 percent, suggesting that irisin may prevent or slow metastasis. Wait, there’s more: cell death was 22 times greater in irisin-treated cancer cells than untreated cells. All of which could explain why women who exercise are reported to have a 30 percent to 40 percent reduced risk of breast cancer and improved survival if they have the disease. The Journal reports that irisin is currently being tested on two aggressive strains of malignant prostate cells and on healthy prostate cells. It also points out that all of these tests took place in the lab, and none involved human trials.
The big news from Thursday’s European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow, Scotland is about exercise and breast cancer risk. Researchers at the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France reported the results of their recent meta-analysis of 37 studies published between 1987 and 2013, representing over four million women, focusing on exercise and breast cancer rates. A press release from the institute reports that the researchers found that, compared with the least active women, those with the highest level of physical activity reduced their risk of breast cancer by 12 percent. Read more from the International Prevention Research Institute.
A 25-year study of 90,000 Canadian women aged 40 to 59 found some discouraging news for women, and for radiologists: the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. The study, published in the British Medical Journal and reported in the New York Times, found that breast screening had harms, largely because “one in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman’s health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.” Times writer Gina Kolata says the findings “will not lead to any immediate change in guidelines for mammography, and many advocates and experts will almost certainly dispute the idea that mammograms are on balance useless, or even harmful.” No doubt about that. Read more in the New York Times.
Running beats walking in many respects, but one important advantage was revealed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, where researchers tracked the health of 300 runners and more than 700 walkers (from the National Runners’ and Walker’s Health Study) who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, for nine years. HealthDay reports that when the researchers looked at all of the women, they found a 25 percent reduction in death from breast cancer during the follow-up period for every mile of brisk walking or two-thirds of a mile of running. But when they looked at just the runners, they found that the same amount of running reduced the risk of death by more than 40 percent. The runners who averaged more than two and a quarter miles per day had a 95 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer during the follow-up period, while the walkers’ risk of breast cancer death for every mile walked each day declined just 5 percent. Read more from HealthDay.
Researchers have known for some time that exercise can lower breast cancer risk, but they could never tell us how much exercise, until now. Futurity reports that when researchers at the University of North Carolina studied the exercise habits and cancer histories of 1,504 women with breast cancer and 1,555 women without breast cancer between the ages of 20 to 98 years old, they found that women who exercised either during their reproductive or postmenopausal years had a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week experienced the greatest benefit with an approximate 30 percent reduced risk. Read more from Futurity.
Can the infamous “Walk it off” therapy ordered up by childhood football coaches apply to breast cancer? Maybe, according to research funded by the American Cancer Society. When researchers looked at the daily exercise habits and the occurrence of breast cancer in 73,000 post-menopausal women, they found that those who walked at a moderate pace for an hour a day had a 14 percent reduced breast cancer risk, compared to those who didn’t walk. Wait there’s more: an hour or more of daily strenuous physical activity was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk, the study found. Read more in HealthDay.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine claims that one third of women treated for breast cancer are treated unnecessarily, because the disease would never have threatened their lives. The Washington Post reports that the study also claims that today’s sharply lower death rate for breast cancer is mainly due to factors such as improved treatments rather than early detection through mammograms. The Post cites two other studies done in the past two years: one, a major study of Norwegian breast cancer patients found that routine mammograms reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by less than 10 percent; and another found no effect on death rates when comparing European nations where screening became prevalent in the 1990s with those where it became widespread in the 2000s. The researchers involved with the most recent study found that while the number of early-stage cancers doubled over the past three decades, the rate at which women were found to have late-stage cancer dropped by only 8 percent. They attribute the anomaly to better diagnostic technology, that finds breast lesions in such an early state of development it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from benign cell clusters. Read the study here.
It’s true, at least generally true, that drinking alcohol can jack up the risk of breast cancer. But now comes research suggesting that red wine can actually reduce the risk. A Cedars-Sinai news release reports that researchers at the hospital studied 36 women who were randomized to drink either Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay daily for almost a month, then switch to the other type of wine. Blood was collected twice each month to measure hormone levels. The researchers found that chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes slightly lowered estrogen levels while elevating testosterone among premenopausal women who drank eight ounces of red wine nightly for about a month. The evidence persuaded the scientists that red wine mimics the effects of aromatase inhibitors, which play a key role in managing estrogen levels, and are used to treat breast cancer. And the bad news? The white wine did nothing. Read more from Cedars-Sinai.