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Exercise Can Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

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3 Must-Know Breakthroughs

By Linda Marsa

1. Better Detection

Digital mammography is up to 22 percent more accurate than traditional mammograms in detecting cancer in younger women or in women who have dense breast tissue, according to a 2005 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Digital cameras capture the images electronically and store them in a computer, allowing technicians to enhance and magnify them. Digital mammography is available at only about 8 percent of imaging centers nationwide; however, many university-affiliated teaching hospitals have the equipment, so ask your doctor about getting a referral to one of them. If you can't get the digital test, go for a traditional mammogram instead.

2. Reducing the Odds of Recurrence

There's new hope for the one in four breast cancer patients diagnosed every year with the highly aggressive type of breast cancer HER2. In two studies published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the drug Herceptin cut the risk of recurrence almost in half and reduced death by about 30 percent in patients with tumors that were localized in the breast or that had spread to only a few lymph nodes.

3. No More Needles Chemotherapy

A new genetic test called Oncotype DX may save approximately 25,000 women a year from unnecessary chemo. The test analyzes a patient's breast cancer tissue for 21 genes linked to recurrence and then calculates a score ranging from 0 to 100. Anything under 18 is considered low risk. The test is for women whose tumors are fueled by estrogen and have not spread to the lymph nodes -- about half of the breast cancer patients diagnosed in the United States each year. If these women take Tamoxifen after their surgery, about 85 percent won't have a recurrence within 10 years. Oncotype DX is expensive -- $3,460 -- though Medicare and many insurers will pay for it.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2006.


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