Friday, October 20, 2017

Breast cancer awareness: Debunking some common myths

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. So, I won’t get it. This is one of the biggest myths Litton hears. Only about 2 out of 10 people diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history, according to the American Cancer Society. “Just because you don’t have a family history, does not mean you are safe,” Litton said.
If you have breast cancer, you’ll have to get a mastectomy. Mastectomies are not as commonly recommended as they were in the past. Even when a patient opts for a mastectomy, the surgery is likely not a radical mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed, but it’s usually partial, skin-sparing, simple or modified, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Some researchers say 70 percent of mastectomies in women with breast cancer are unnecessary, because healthy breast tissue isn’t proven to significantly lower risk of recurrence. Often, breast-conserving surgery such as radiation can be done to spare the breast. “In the vast majority of cases, having a mastectomy does not change the overall survival of cancer they’ve been diagnosed with,” Litton said. Having a mastectomy only lowers breast cancer risk in the removed breast, but doesn’t lower cancer risk in other parts of the body, the American Cancer Society says.
Everyone with breast cancer needs chemotherapy. While treatment can include chemotherapy (which causes hair loss), it might not. A lot depends on the size of the cancer and the patient’s biology, Litton said. Surgery and radiation are among other treatment options available to patients.
Only lumps that are painful are cancerous. Cancerous lumps can be painful or painless. Any lump that persists for two weeks should be evaluated by a medical professional, Litton said.
Breast cancer is a death sentence. The majority of those diagnosed with stage III, stage II and stage I breast cancer survive at least 5 years after diagnosis, according to data from the American Cancer Society. Metastatic or stage IV breast cancers have a 5-year survival rate of about 22 percent.
A good diet can prevent and treat cancer. Litton said many diagnosed with breast cancer look for a “magic diet,” but the reality is “the patient is not in control of the cancer.” With that being said, a low-sugar, plant-based diet can help overall health.
Men can’t get breast cancer. While breast cancer in men is rare (less than 1 percent of all breast cancers), it happens. This is because men have breast tissue. Old age, high estrogen levels, radiation exposure, alcohol consumption, a strong family history of breast cancer, or genetic mutations can all increase a man’s risk of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
There’s one type of breast cancer. There are more than a dozen types of breast cancer. Common kinds are carcinomas, tumors that grow in organs and tissues. Most breast cancers are a type of carcinoma called adenocarcinoma that starts in the milk ducts or milk-producing glands. But, there are other kinds of breast cancer that start in the cells of muscle, fat or connective tissue. Visit for more information on types and treatments of breast cancer.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Breast cancer genetics revealed: 72 new mutations discovered in global study

The genetic causes of breast cancer just got clearer.

Researchers from 300 institutions around the world combined forces to discover 72 previously unknown gene mutations that lead to the development of breast cancer. Two studies describing their work published Monday in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics. The teams found that 65 of the newly identified genetic variants are common among women with breast cancer. The remaining seven mutations predispose women to developing a type of breast cancer known as estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, which doesn't respond to hormonal therapies, such as the drug tamoxifen. The new discoveries add to previous research bringing the total number of known variants associated with breast cancer to nearly 180.

Beyond BRCA1 and BRCA2

The international team of 550 researchers across six continents, known as the OncoArray Consortium, included professor Doug Easton of the University of Cambridge, who led the investigation. "Essentially, we used blood samples from a very large number of women (nearly 300,000), about half of whom had had breast cancer," Easton explained in an email. Next, the researchers used the DNA from the samples to look for genetic mutations. "Think of a gene as a very long strand of DNA," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the research. DNA is made up of nucleic acids, and when a nucleic acid is incorrectly placed along the strand, this is referred to as a genetic mutation, noted Brawley.

Take BRCA1 and BRCA2, two well-known genes that confer a high risk of breast cancer when they contain mutations. There are 125,950 base pairs in the BRCA 1 mutation, noted Brawley. "Think of it as a 125,950 letter word," said Brawley. "A mutation is a misspelling such that the gene cannot code the proper protein." A gene that cannot code the proper protein leads to disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, 55% to 65% of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and around 45% of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70. However, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 risk mutations, which are present in less than 1% of women, explain only a fraction of all inherited breast cancers. The consortium came together, then, to discover the other causes of breast cancer susceptibility -- the additional genetic mutations that can lead to this form of cancer.

Finding the other mutations

The researchers measured DNA at over 10 million sites across the genome, said professor Peter Kraft of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a study author. "At each of these sites, we asked whether the DNA sequence in women with breast cancer was different than that in women without," said Kraft. "Because our study was so large, we could detect subtle differences between these two groups of women and be sure these differences were not due to chance." According to Jacques Simard, a study author and professor and researcher at Université Laval, Quebec City, the newly discovered mutations only slightly -- by anywhere from 5% to 10% -- increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. But even though, individually, these mutations don't have as big as an effect as BRCA1 and BRCA2 defects, there are many of them, so their "overall contribution is larger," said Easton. An individual woman, then, may have two or more of these common smaller risk gene mutations, and so her risk for developing breast cancer increases due to their combined effects. Kraft noted that "taken together, these risk variants may identify a small proportion of women who are at 3-times increased risk of breast cancer." Women found to have a number of these smaller risk genetic mutations, then, would likely benefit from earlier mammography screening. Simard agreed, noting that it may be time to "adapt" breast cancer screening guidelines based on this information instead of basing mammography guidelines on age alone. By doing so, Simard said, "we will detect a higher number of breast cancers."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Breast Cancer “Awareness” Misses These Painful Realities

You Don’t Need as Many Mammograms as You Think

Mammograms can detect cancers that would otherwise kill you, but they also can give false positives that result in more scans and biopsies that turn out to be negative. And they can result in you getting the full cancer patient experience for slow-growing or benign cancers that didn’t really need to be treated. So mammograms aren’t a “more is better” kind of thing. The US Preventive Services Task Force says you should get your first mammogram at age 50 (unless you really want to start earlier) and should get them every other year through age 74. Other organizations disagree slightly. The American Cancer Society wants people to start at age 45; the American College of Radiology and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says age 40. Each organization also has its own ideas for whether you should get them every year, every other year, or some combination that changes as you age. You may also get to stop getting mammograms at age 75 according to the USPTF; after that, they say there isn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against screening. Other organizations recommend different end dates, but generally there’s no point to detecting breast cancer if you’re likely to die of something else first. The American College of Radiology says it’s time to stop if you know you have less than seven years left to live, or if you wouldn’t act on an abnormal finding.

Not Everyone Thinks of Their Cancer as a “Battle”

Nobody wants to be a “victim” of cancer, so it feels positive to shift the focus toward the person with cancer as an active participant. Maybe they’re “fighting” cancer, or they’re a hero or a trooper. And if the worst happens, we say they “lost their battle.” But many people who have cancer don’t like this metaphor. If somebody is tough for beating cancer, that implies that people who died or whose disease got worse were somehow not tough or active enough. Many cancer patients feel uncomfortable with the idea that they’re supposed to be someone’s hero.

Cancer Treatment Is Incredibly Expensive

Even if you do catch your cancer early and “fight” your “battle” like you’re supposed to, you’ll face steep medical bills. A study of women with private insurance—that’s the kind you get through your employer or buy for yourself—found that women under 45 incurred $97,486 of extra medical costs (including those paid by insurance) in the year following diagnosis. Women aged 45 to 64 were more likely to catch their cancer earlier; their costs averaged $75,737. A previous study, on patients who were treated in 2010 (before the Affordable Care Act) also found costs to be astronomical. There was a large gap between how much the insurance company would pay and how much the treatment actually cost—on average $15,000 for stage I/II cancer and $50,000 for stage IV. (People’s out-of-pocket costs should be lower today. For example, the ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to cap their total benefits.) But even today, people with cancer still have plenty of expenses in the form of copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. Half of Americans would have a hard time affording even a $100 emergency, much less the thousands that cancer patients have to cough up.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Breast Cancer Prevention Tips

According to Texas Oncology, Texas ranks third in the United States in estimated new cases of breast cancer. Dr. V at Texas Oncology in Tyler says prevention is key to lowering the number of women that are diagnosed. Breast cancer is the second-deadliest cancer among American women and although it's not completely prevented, women can take steps to decrease risk and/or improve early detection. Regular screenings depending on your age is important, alongside a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise. These are just a few ways to lower the numbers.


  • Women should check their breasts monthly. Report any changes to a physician immediately. 
  • Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every three years. 
  • Women in their 30s should discuss their breast cancer risk level with a physician to determine the most appropriate cancer screening options, including mammograms and MRI screenings. 
  • Women age 40 and older should discuss individual risk factors with a physician to determine recommended timing and most appropriate screenings, including annual mammogram, annual clinical breast exam, and annual MRI screening. 
  • Women age 50 and older should have a mammogram and a clinical breast exam at least every two years after discussion with her physician, and if recommended by a physician, an annual MRI screening. 

  • Regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy body weight may reduce the risk of breast cancer. 
Higher Risk

  • Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss genetic testing with their physicians. If genetic tests indicate a woman is BRCA-positive, there are a number of risk reduction strategies to discuss with her physician. 
  • Women with a first degree relative who had breast cancer before age 50 should begin receiving mammograms 10 years before reaching that relative’s age at diagnosis.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What’s the Connection Between Heart Disease and Breast Cancer?

It may seem like the ultimate insult, but having survived breast cancer can put you at higher risk of additional health problems later in life. The National Cancer Institute reports that the average five-year survival rate for breast cancer is now about 90 percent, thanks to advanced treatment protocols. However, some patients who’ve had radiation treatment and chemotherapy may be at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease in what’s called a late side effect of treatment for breast cancer. This means that the heart problem may not surface for months or years after the conclusion of treatment. According to a report in the journal EJC Supplements, an open access companion journal to the European Journal of Cancer, cardiovascular disease is already the leading cause of death “accounting for 30 to 50 percent of all deaths in most developed countries. Because of this high background rate, even a minor increase in risk of CVD [resulting from cancer treatment] will have an important impact on morbidity and mortality.”

According to a 2016 article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, ischemic heart disease (a reduction in blood supply to the heart) is the most common cause of death after radiation treatments. Valve disorders and diseases of the heart muscle and the pericardial sac that encases it are also common. A disruption to the electrical pulses that make the heart pump can also occur. “Overall, compared with nonirradiated patients, patients who have undergone chest radiotherapy have a 2 percent higher absolute risk of cardiac morbidity and death at five years and a 23 percent increased absolute risk after 20 years,” the article notes.

Anju Nohria, director of the cardio-oncology program at Brigham and Women/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says the problem stems from radiation’s ability to kill healthy cells that are located within the field of radiation being administered to a breast cancer tumor. Radiation “essentially destroys the cancer cells preferentially because they’re rapidly multiplying and therefore more susceptible. But [radiation can] also cause some damage to any healthy tissue” nearby. She says this is particularly true for patients having radiation treatments on the left breast, as the heart sits under that breast and is therefore closer to radiation beams in some cases. “If the tumor is on the left side but in your armpit, maybe you’re fine. But if it’s right over the heart, you have a higher risk,” of developing CVD later on because of that proximity to exposure, Nohria says.

In an effort to avoid exposing the heart as much as possible, many doctors now deliver radiation treatment while patients are lying prone, “meaning that they’re lying on their stomachs with their breasts hanging down." That way, the breast is sort of separated from the chest wall, and the heart is less in the radiation field.” Radiation is delivered from the underside of the table. Some doctors are also using “very sophisticated radiation techniques where they can map out the tumor and try to exclude the heart from the radiation field to the extent possible,” she says.

Even so, some patients will experience problems while others won’t, and the risk of developing cardiac problems after radiation treatment is dependent on a number of factors, including the location of the tumor and dose of radiation administered. “If you need a lot of radiation because you have a large tumor or it’s a particularly malignant tumor,” then the higher the dose the heart may receive, Nohria says. A patient’s age and preexisting cardiac risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can also elevate risk. Smokers or people who already have heart disease are also at higher risk, “because in a way the heart has already sustained some damage and now you’re giving it an additional kick, so to speak.”

Certain chemotherapies including anthracycline drugs and certain drugs within the Herceptin family of HER2 agonists have also been linked with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease in some breast cancer patients, Nohria says. Adriamycin, an anthracycline chemotherapy, causes a “weakening of the heart muscle in 8 to 9 percent of women. In the majority of these cases, it happens within the first year of treatment,” she says. So if you’re taking this drug, expect your doctor to keep tabs on your cardiovascular health. “As we’ve begun to realize this [risk], we’re being more vigilant looking for it in the first year after treatment.” If this cardiac toxicity is noted early, “you can put people on heart medicines that help the heart recover in a certain proportion of patients.” But a change in cardiac health won’t always be obvious early on, she says. “Sometimes you’ll have an asymptomatic decline in your cardiac function – the squeezing of the heart muscle – and it only manifests when the person comes up with symptoms, which can be a several-year lag.”

With some of the HER2 agonist drugs, cardiac problems may actually be reversible in some patients, Nohria says. “If you stop the drug, there’s a high likelihood that your heart will get better. But in a few cases, like 30 percent, it doesn’t get better. For those people, you have to manage them with cardiac medications to try to prevent it from getting worse.” Combination therapies can present additional challenges to managing cardiac disease risks. Again, as with radiation, dosage makes a difference in whether a patient will develop cardiac issues after chemotherapy. “The higher the dose, the higher the likelihood that you’ll have a problem. For instance, if you have metastatic disease and you’ve had many, many doses of the drug, your risk is higher.” Similarly, “women over the age of 60, women with preexisting risk factors and women with preexisting heart disease” all have a higher risk of developing CVD after chemo. Patients who receive a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, particularly if it’s on the left side, “have a double whammy. Plus if you’re older and have a lot of risk factors, that sort of magnifies your risk because they’re additive,” Nohria says.

As more doctors have become aware of the connection between breast cancer treatments and heart health later in life, many are taking steps to reduce the risk, particularly in patients who have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In many patients, this means some prep work before therapy begins. “If you’re in a good medical center, before they start you on these things they should be getting a good cardiac history and trying to optimize your cardiac risk factors before starting you on these medications,” Nohria says. also recommends that, “no matter how old you are, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about your personal risk of treatment-related heart problems and whether or not visiting a cardiologist before treatment starts is a good idea for you.” In addition to evaluating your baseline heart function and assessing your risk factors, “you also may want to ask your oncologist how your heart function will be monitored during treatment.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Myths about breast cancer debunked: Family history often has nothing to do with diagnosis

If you have breast cancer, you'll have to get a mastectomy.
Mastectomies are not as commonly recommended as they were in the past. Even when a patient opts for a mastectomy, the surgery is likely not a radical mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed, but it's usually partial, skin-sparing, simple or modified, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Some researchers say 70% of mastectomies in women with breast cancer are unnecessary, because healthy breast tissue isn't proven to significantly lower risk of recurrence. Often, breast-conserving surgery such as radiation can be done to spare the breast.

"In the vast majority of cases, having a mastectomy does not change the overall survival of cancer they've been diagnosed with," Litton said. Having a mastectomy only lowers breast cancer risk in the removed breast, but doesn't lower cancer risk in other parts of the body, the American Cancer Society says.

Everyone with breast cancer needs chemotherapy.
While treatment can include chemotherapy (which causes hair loss), it might not. A lot depends on the size of the cancer and the patient's biology, Litton said. Surgery and radiation are among other treatment options available to patients. Only lumps that are painful are cancerous.

Cancerous lumps can be painful or painless.
Any lump that persists for two weeks should be evaluated by a medical professional, Litton said.

Breast cancer is a death sentence.
The majority of those diagnosed with stage III, stage II and stage I breast cancer survive at least 5 years after diagnosis, according to data from the American Cancer Society. Metastatic or stage IV breast cancers have a 5-year survival rate of about 22%.

A good diet can prevent and treat cancer.
Litton said many diagnosed with breast cancer look for a "magic diet," but the reality is "the patient is not in control of the cancer." With that being said, a low-sugar, plant-based diet can help overall health.

Men can't get breast cancer.
While breast cancer in men is rare (less than 1% of all breast cancers), it happens. This is because men have breast tissue. Old age, high estrogen levels, radiation exposure, alcohol consumption, a strong family history of breast cancer, or genetic mutations can all increase a man's risk of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

There's one type of breast cancer.
There are more than a dozen types of breast cancer. Common kinds are carcinomas, tumors that grow in organs and tissues. Most breast cancers are a type of carcinoma called adenocarcinoma that starts in the milk ducts or milk-producing glands. But, there are other kinds of breast cancer that start in the cells of muscle, fat or connective tissue. Visit for more information on types and treatments of breast cancer.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Breast cancer charities: Where to give — and where to avoid

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and with the recent announcement that Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been diagnosed with the disease, the issue is once again on the hearts and minds of many.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One way to help fight this devastating disease is to contribute to charities that focus on the research, prevention and treatment of breast cancer. But with the large number of organizations with similar names devoted to the cause, how do you know which ones are the best? The first thing you should do when considering donating is to check with charity watchdog groups that evaluate how well each organization spends the money it receives from contributors.

Two of the biggest charity watchdogs are Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. Both groups evaluate thousands of charities and non-profit organizations by looking at financial statements, tax reports, program expenses and fundraising costs. When giving to a charity it is important to consider three things, according to Charity Navigator CEO Michael Thatcher: Be clear on your motivation for giving and focus on where you want to make an impact, check the financial health and accountability of the organization, and check for signs of results. In terms of breast cancer, consider whether you want your money to go for research and finding a cure, support services for cancer patients, helping support families or education and public awareness, Thatcher said.

Charity Watch: Top breast cancer charities The American Institute of Philanthropy's Charity Watch cites 12 organizations as the top-rated cancer charities and of those there are three on the list that focus specifically on breast cancer prevention and research:

Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Mission: To prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world's most promising research. Rating: A+ Program percentage (percentage of its cash budget it spends on programs relative to overhead): 90% Cost to raise $100 (How many dollars a charity spends on fundraising to raise each $100 of contributions): $7

National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund Mission: To end breast cancer; has set a deadline to know how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. Rating: A Program percentage: 83% Cost to raise $100: $13

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (formerly Breast Cancer Fund) Mission: Working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease. Rating: A- Program percentage: 77% Cost to raise $100: $13

Charity Watch also gives top ratings to these broader cancer organizations on the list that are also involved in breast cancer research, treatment and education: Cancer Research Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Prevent Cancer Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Stand Up To Cancer.

Charity Navigator: Top breast cancer charities

Charity Navigator uses a star rating system when evaluating how efficiently a charity uses your donations. Of the three charities highly recommended by Charity Watch, the Breast Cancer Foundation received Charity Navigator's highest rating of four stars. The National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund and the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners both received three stars. Other national charities devoted to breast cancer research and medical services that received four stars from Charity Navigator:

National Breast Cancer Foundation Mission: To help women now by providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services. Score (out of 100): 96.0 Program expenses (Percent of charity's total expenses spent on programs, services): 82.9%

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation Mission: To achieve a future without breast cancer and improve the lives of people impacted by it now through education and advocacy. Score: 92.0 Program expenses: 81.9%

Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation Mission: Funding life-changing breakthroughs in breast cancer. Score (out of 100): 90.9 Program expenses: 92.1%

Charity Navigator also gave four stars to these charities that provide breast cancer support services and education: Bay Area Cancer Connections, It's the Journey, Casting for Recovery, Sharsheret,, Prevent Cancer Foundation, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and American Italian Cancer Foundation.

Susan G. Komen

One of the largest and most well-known charities devoted to the cause is the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization. The charity was founded in 1982 and was one of the first to devote itself to the cause of breast cancer research and has raised millions. The organization’s reputation was damaged slightly after a decision in 2012 to cut its grants that funded breast cancer screening and outreach programs at Planned Parenthood erupted into controversy. The group quickly reversed its decision. 

The organization also has received criticism for what some deemed excessive executive compensation and for "pinkwashing," cause marketing with pink ribbons that allow companies to exploit the disease for profit. The charity received mixed scores from the watchdogs.

Charity Navigator gives Susan G. Komen for the Cure a 3-star rating (out of four) and lists the percent of its expenses spent on programs and services at 81.6%.

Charity Watch gives the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation a C+ rating with program percentage of 62%-77% and the cost to raise $100 of $12-$27.

Don't give: Low-rated charities Charity Navigator also cites these organizations as being low-rated and states: “We caution you to look carefully before supporting one of these charities." A high concern advisory was issued for the defunct charities Breast Cancer Society and the Cancer Fund of America. The Federal Trade Commission ordered the organizations to be dissolved after alleging they were scam charities and bilked donors. Other organizations rate lower because they scored lower on financial support and are spending more on fundraising than devoting funds to the issues, Thatcher said. "The money is going to spending money to make money."

These organizations received zero or one star:
National Cancer Center
Walker Cancer Research Institute
American Breast Cancer Foundation

These organizations received two stars:
United Breast Cancer Foundation, The Avon Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Women Manage Lymphedema After Bouts With Breast Cancer

A vine of pink begonia blooms climb up Kate Collins' left arm in what looks like a full sleeve of tattoos. People around town regularly stop her and ask about them only to realize, with a closer look, that there is a seam creeping up her arm. The flowers are not tattoos; they're a printed pattern on a compression sleeve, a band of medical grade material that she wears every day to ward off the swelling from lymphedema, a condition related to the breast cancer diagnosis she received a dozen years ago. Lymphedema can occur after a patient has her under-arm lymph nodes removed to determine whether her cancer has spread. Besides causing swelling, the condition can be painful and increase the risk of skin infections.

Sleeves, like the one Collins wears to keep her lymphedema at bay, feel like tightly wrapped ace bandages. "It's uncomfortable, it's hot and I hate wearing it," says Collins, 64, who had both her breasts and the lymph nodes on her left side removed. "But I figure if you've got to wear it — you might as well make a fashion statement." Collins keeps a basket of sleeves in the living room in her home in Northampton. The one with a bluish gray snake that wraps around her arm she wears while gardening. Another sports a smiling sun. All of them keep her lymphatic fluid — waste that is normally filtered out of the body by the lymph nodes — from pooling in her arm. She's had to give up wearing some of her rings or bangle bracelets because of swelling in her fingers and wrists. Summer used to be her favorite season, but because the sleeve makes her feel hot, she now stays inside in the air conditioning or goes out only in the cool morning air.

"It is a chronic disease," she says of lymphedema. "As if you don't remember that you had breast cancer ... here is a reminder." Once a woman has had lymph nodes under her arm removed, she is at permanent risk of developing lymphedema. And, when she gets it, there is no way to get rid of it. The two ways to ease the symptoms are the compression bands and light massage. It's a breast cancer side effect that hasn't gotten enough attention, says Collins. "Nobody told me that I was going to get lymphedema, nobody warned me," she says. "Wouldn't you think that my surgeon or my oncologist would say, 'by the way, you lost all your lymph nodes, you are at risk of lymphedema." But no one did. When her lymph nodes were removed a dozen years ago, a medical assistant in the New York hospital where she was being treated left her with a few cryptic words, "Sometimes ladies' arms swell." The lymphatic system looks much like a root system directly under the skin that runs throughout the body.

At certain junctions, pea-sized pockets, the lymph nodes, are working to pump and filter the body's fluid waste. People generally have between 500 and 700 lymph nodes throughout the body with 15 to 30 under each arm. The waste they carry is mostly blood cells, but there can also be bacteria or even fat mixed in. Doctors typically remove the lymph nodes to check for the spread of cancer cells. "It's kind of our garbage picker-upper system," says Lisa McCutcheon, an occupational therapist, who works with breast cancer survivors at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. She teaches cancer survivors how to perform manual lymph drainage on their own bodies. It's a technique that is like an extremely light massage. "A manual lymphedema coach almost serves as a traffic cop," she says. "So, if there is swelling, I am going to teach them how to reroute it down a pathway that is a healthier pathway. It's almost like a highway system — if it gets backed up — nothing can move." People might have a feeling of fullness or achiness before they see any swelling. If they intervene quickly enough, there is hope they can prevent significant swelling, she says. "It's good to know what isn't normal, so you can catch any issues," she says.

"We are trying to give a lot of education around prevention and awareness, so if there is an issue people can act on it quickly." At the time of her cancer diagnosis, Collins was living in Long Island, New York working as a school district administrator, and the trauma of having both her breasts removed foremost on her mind. Those few words from the medical assistant about possible swelling didn't seem significant. "Did I process that? Of course I didn't. I was getting ready to get cut open and maybe die," she says. Doctors today are more conscious of making patients aware of the risk of lymphedema, says Michelle Helms, a general surgeon at Cooley Dickinson who treats women with breast cancer. Over the last 15 years there also has been a national movement to reduce the number of lymph nodes that are removed. Surgeons in the past might have stripped the armpits of them, leaving patients at high risk of developing lymphedema, but today surgeons are more careful to take only those that must go says Dr. Holly Michaelson, chief of surgery at Cooley Dickinson.

"Significant lymphedema is life altering and I think surgeons have done everything we can to make sure that fewer people get lymphedema," she says. These days, most breast cancer patients have just one or two lymph nodes removed. As a result, the condition is less common. Women who have fewer than four lymph nodes removed have a less than 4 percent chance of developing lymphedema. Women with more advanced breast cancer and have all of the lymph nodes removed, face a risk of up to 20 percent, Helms says. With the accompanying pain and swelling, this can significantly diminish a patient's quality of life. "You are kind of dragging a big old water balloon in the arm," she says. "This can be really tough." The stretched skin also becomes weak and can result in ulcers, which can easily lead to infections. By intervening quickly and being educated about the condition, women can lower their chances of developing severe infections, says McCutcheon. Melissa Ross of Florence caught her lymphedema early. A little more than a year after her surgery to remove both of her breasts, she noticed some slight swelling.

Her doctors at Cooley Dickinson had warned her about lymphedema, so she was looking for it. "I knew what it was right away," she says. She started learning about manual lymph drainage. "I sort of jumped on it. I didn't wait till it was really bad." Sometimes over a multi-week period she goes to see McCutcheon twice a week, but lately she's found ways to manage her symptoms at home. A dip in her backyard pool, she's found, eases the swelling. "Being submerged in water puts pressure on your lymphatic system, so it pushes the fluids out," she says. Other days, she jumps on a mini trampoline in her bedroom. The force of gravity can also works wonders, she says. ?????? Lymphedema never caused her significant pain; she still works part-time as a hairdresser, and rarely does she wear her compression sleeve. Sometimes her skin around her right elbow gets taut, but she knows how to manage it and she credits her mild condition with catching it early. Now retired, Collins wishes that someone had told her to seek treatment sooner. In the three years between her breast surgery and her lymphedema diagnosis, any small cut or scrap could leave her with a severe infection, and she had no idea why. "It is important to keep the skin healthy because the skin is a barrier," says McCutcheon. "If the lymphatic system is already slowed down — you can have an infection pretty seriously." This is what happen to Collins.

One night she woke up in a pool of sweat to find that her left arm had tripled in size and turned a dark shade of red. She rushed to the emergency room in pain and with a fever. Doctors diagnosed an infection that stemmed from a bug bite, but didn't mention lymphedema. The swelling still hadn't gone done six months later when she went to Cooley Dickinson for physical therapy for some herniated discs in her back. Her therapist, who was also certified lymphedema therapist, made the diagnosis. Since then Collins has learned to manage her lymphedema. She bought the collection of compression sleeves and the therapist taught her how to gently massage her arm to ease the swelling. "I don't have to go to work because I'm retired, so I manage my lymph fluid in the morning," she says. "Or I do it when I am putting lotion on my arm."

10 things breast cancer doctors wish you knew

1. I have breast cancer. Am I going to die? According to several doctors participating in Pink Power TODAY, this is a common question women ask immediately after being diagnosed. "Breast cancer is not a death sentence," Dr. Deepa Halaharvi, a board-certified general surgeon specializing in breast surgery, told TODAY via email. "Most people do really well and 5-year survival for all stages of breast cancer is 91 percent. We really need to be catching this at an early stage."

2. I don't have a family history of breast cancer. Why did I get it? "Most commonly, breast cancer is sporadic and most people (85 percent to 90 percent of breast cancer patients) don’t have a family history of breast cancer," said Halaharvi. "It’s a common misconception that it’s inherited through a family history. So regular screenings are very important, regardless of what your family history may be. At OhioHealth, we recommend average-risk women begin screening mammograms at age 40." According to the American Cancer Society, women ages 40 to 44 should start having annual mammograms if they want. Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, and women 55 and older should switch to every two years, or can continue yearly screenings.

3. What are the most important risk factors for breast cancer? "A previous history of breast cancer, a significant family history of the disease (particularly when a genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 are present), and specific conditions such as atypical hyperplasia and LCIS that are only detected when breast tissue is biopsied and examined microscopically," explained Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone. Schnabel noted that these risk factors have different magnitudes, and you should try to discuss with your doctor what makes a family history significant (close relatives, diagnosed at young ages, multiple generations).

4. I am a BRCA carrier. What do I need to know? "BRCA carriers are the highest risk group for breast cancer," stated Schnabel. "BRCA1 carriers are at risk for breast and ovarian cancer — their lifetime risk for breast cancer may be as high as 50 to 85 percent. BRCA2 carriers have a 40- to 60-percent lifetime risk for breast cancer, and are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer, and are also at increased risk for pancreatic cancer." According to Schnabel, BRCA carriers have three options to manage their breast cancer risk: intensive surveillance (to maximize the opportunity for early detection of disease should it occur) chemo-prevention (the use of drugs like tamoxifen to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer) risk-reducing surgery (bilateral mastectomies with reconstruction to lower the risk of breast cancer to as low as we can make it)

5. What can you tell me about the alcohol and breast cancer link? While countless studies support that wine is good for your heart health, you have to weigh these benefits against its link to cancer. "There is good evidence that alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer," Schnabel explained. "Specifically, women who drink at the rate of seven drinks per week have about a 20-percent increase in their risk for breast cancer."

6. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 45, when should I start getting mammograms? "If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should start screening mammograms 10 years prior to your family member getting diagnosed," Halaharvi explained. "So in this case, you’d start at age 35. Again, make sure to talk with your physician and discuss your family history."

7. How quickly do I need to start treatment for my breast cancer? When you're first diagnosed, it may feel like there is pressure on you to decide on a treatment plan right away. But Dr. Lisa Newman, a breast cancer surgery specialist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, advises clients to take a beat to process everything and make the right decision for you. "You should not feel that you are 'racing the clock' — the cancer is not spreading or becoming more advanced in your breast or your body by the day," Newman said. "You have the time to make sure that you are properly informed about your cancer diagnosis and treatment options before jumping into something irreversible."

8. Should I get a second opinion? For many women, taking the time to weigh their options means getting more than one medical opinion, or looking into clinical trials or research studies, Newman said. "There is no magic deadline," she stressed. "But a general rule of thumb is that we don’t like to see patients delaying the start of their treatment more than four to six weeks after the diagnosis has been made. The stage and type of breast cancer can influence how quickly the treatment should be initiated."

9. There are so many conflicting reports about breast self-exams, should I be doing them? The American Cancer Society no longer recommends frequent breast self-exams because research has found they don't provide a clear benefit or save women's lives. However, it does stress that women should have self-breast awareness — "be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away." "Women should be aware of changes to their breasts such as a palpable mass, skin changes, nipple discharge, skin dimpling, nipple inversion and mass underneath the arms such as enlarged lymph nodes," Halaharvi stressed. "You don’t necessarily need to have a mass to have breast cancer such as inflammatory breast cancer (redness, an orange peel appearance) are seen."

10. How and when should I tell my children? This is one of those answers that is tricky, depending on the ages of your children, but Newman offered this advice: "In general it is best to be as honest with them as possible, because they are likely to sense and/or see that something major is happening, and it is important to provide them with reassurance that you are taking care of yourself," she said. "Very young children may need to also be reassured that cancer is not contagious like the flu, and older children may actually feel empowered if they are allowed to help out and provide support during your treatment. All children need to understand that the cancer diagnosis was not anyone’s fault."

Friday, September 29, 2017

Healthy Baking Substitutions Nutrition Pros Swear By

It’s officially fall, and that means the baking season has begun. To me, there’s nothing better on a brisk day than fresh-from-the-oven apple cakes, cranberry spice muffins or pumpkin scones with a hot cup of tea. I love baked goods, but can’t afford all of their calories, sugar and fat, so I make smart substitutions to lighten them up. Here are five healthy baking substitutions to try:

Fruit Purees Instead for Butter or Oil

You can create deliciously rich and moist baked goods while cutting calories and saturated fat by using a fruit puree instead of butter or oil in many recipes. Fruit purees provide fiber, antioxidants and other essential nutrients. Banana or prune purees have 15 and 45 calories, respectively, per tablespoon and are fat-free and potassium-rich. In comparison, a tablespoon of oil packs in 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat.

How to use: Replace every 1cup of oil with ¾ cup fruit puree. Best for: Prune puree works perfectly to make rich brownies and chocolate cakes. Pureed bananas are a great option for coffee cakes, quick breads, spice cakes and most cookies. If you’re looking to make a guilt-free brownie, try this recipe. 

Vanilla Extract for Sugar According to national data, Americans consume about 20 teaspoons (equal to 320 calories!) every day. A cup of sugar has about 775 calories, so it’s a good idea to cut down on the sweet stuff. While most baked goods require some sugar, you can cut back the amount you use by replacing some of the sugar with vanilla extract.

How to use: Replace ¼ cup sugar with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. You can replace up to a quarter of the sugar your recipe calls for with vanilla. Best for: Scones, muffins, and chocolate dessert recipes. Stevia Blends for Sugar Another easy way to slash calories and added sugar is to use the natural sweetener stevia in lieu of some of the sugar in your recipes. Stevia is made from the extract of leaves of the stevia plant, which is native to South America. Baked goods do require some real sugar to get the right taste and texture, so you need to use a combination of stevia with sugar. An easy way to do this is with Truvia Cane Sugar Blend, which combines Truvia Natural Sweetener with regular sugar. It has 75 percent fewer calories per serving than table sugar.

How to use: Use ½ cup of Truvia Cane Sugar Blend for every 1 cup of table sugar in your recipe. Best for: Any type of baking including pie, cookies, cake and quick breads.

Cocoa Nibs for Chocolate Chips

Whether you’re baking chocolate chip cookies or a fiber-rich breakfast cookie, you can lighten your recipe by swapping cocoa (or cacao) nibs for chocolate chips. A cup of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips packs in about 850 calories and 25 teaspoons of sugar. A cup of cacao nibs, on the other hand, have about 700 calories and no sugar. Minimally processed cacao nibs are referred to as nature’s chocolate and they provide antioxidants, fiber, magnesium and iron.

How to use: Cocoa nibs can be used as a 1:1 replacement for all of the chocolate chips in any baked good. Best for: Cookies, cakes, quick breads, or muffins. Try this delicious Dark Chocolate Banana Bread.

Oat Bran for White Flour Making bread or muffins? Boost the nutrition, taste and texture of your baked goods by swapping out some regular flour for oat bran. Oat bran is rich in fiber (nearly 4 grams per quarter-cup) and protein (four grams per quarter-cup). The protein and fiber will help you feel more satisfied and can lower harmful total and LDL cholesterol levels.

How to use: Oat bran can replace up to a quarter of the all-purpose flour. For example, if a recipe has 3 cups all-purpose flour, use ¾ cup oat bran and 2¼ cups all-purpose flour. Best for: Muffins, carrot cake, scones and bread.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

7 Seemingly Unhealthy Behaviors That Are Actually Good for You

1. Having a glass (or two) of wine with dinner
When it comes to losing weight, you've likely heard that it's best to avoid the liquid calories found in alcohol. But a recent review of studies on the impact of alcohol on weight gain published in Current Obesity Reports found that frequent light to moderate alcohol intake — meaning at most two drinks a day for men and one for women — does not seem to be associated with obesity risk. However, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks on an occasion) and heavy drinking (more than four drinks in a day for men, or more than three for women) were linked to an increased risk of obesity and a growing waistline. So go ahead and enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner — just don't overdo it. Drinking too much may lower your inhibition and cause you to polish off that pint of chocolate chip cookie dough.

2. Indulging in your favorite comfort foods
Whether you're trying to lose weight or not, you already know you shouldn't indulge in mac and cheese and bacon double cheeseburgers every day. However, "it's ok to enjoy comfort foods from time to time," says Rachel Beller, RDN, a nutritionist based in Los Angeles. In fact, if you deprive yourself of the foods you love, your efforts could backfire and lead to binge-eating down the road. The key to indulging your cravings, says Beller, is selecting comfort foods that yield a return on your health — think mashed potatoes made with clean ingredients or pizza made with whole grain crust. In other words, don't reach for a bag of Cheetos, which offers no nutritional value. "That would be counterproductive no matter what," notes Beller. If you do indulge in a meal that's not nutritionally stellar (hello, margaritas and nachos!), don't beat yourself up and slide into a junk food-filled abyss. Just pick up where you left off and make the next meal a healthy one.

3. Taking a break from your exercise routine
When you're trying to reach a health goal, it can be all too easy to fall into a must-work-out-every-day mindset. But the truth is, it's not a good idea to hit the gym on a daily basis. Many people don't realize that recovery is just as important as exercise, says certified personal trainer Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. "When you work out, your body breaks down muscle tissue," he explains. "You then need to allow your body time to recover so it can re-build the muscle tissue and make it even stronger." Not allowing your body time to recover can lead to problems such as decreased performance, fatigue and injuries. The amount of recovery time your body needs varies (depending on your age and fitness goals), but Gary recommends, at the very least, one day of rest each week. "That means not exercising at all or doing something restorative like yoga or easy stretching," he says.

4. Nibbling on chocolate
It's ok to indulge your sweet tooth once in awhile. "Chocolate's main ingredient cacao contains a wealth of polyphenols — a powerful anti-inflammatory agent," says Beller. "In fact, it has twice the amount found in red wine, three times that of green tea, and four times more than black tea." According to Beller, cacao has a host of health benefits including lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol, staving off diabetes (by reducing insulin resistance), and sharpening your mental function by promoting neuronal growth and blood flow to the brain. To enjoy chocolate the healthy way, try nibbling on a few squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate paired with strawberries or melted onto bananas, mix 2 tablespoons unsweetened pure cocoa powder into your coffee or a cup of warm milk or sprinkle cacao nibs on oatmeal or a smoothie bowl, suggests Beller.

5. Stressing out
Believe it or not, stress isn't always a bad thing. "Stress itself is not the enemy," says Leslie Connor, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Wilmington, DE. "It can be an important signal or ally to us, as long as we know how to cope with it." In fact, moderate stress levels can improve performance, a phenomenon you may have experienced while working under a tight deadline. "Too little stress equals low performance — basically we aren't getting activated enough to put forward our best," says Connor. "But too much stress can also lead to low performance because it may cause you to freeze up. What leads to maximum performance then is moderate stress." In other words, you want to feel worked up enough to perform well, but not so crazed that you freeze up or panic.

6. Procrastinating (er, pondering)
"Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time," Charles Dickens once said. It's a wise sentiment that's often easier said than done. Indeed, 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators, says Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. But while everybody procrastinates, not everyone is a procrastinator, he notes. What does that mean? First, it's important to understand the definition of procrastinating. "Procrastination means actively putting something off," says Ferrari. "That's different from pausing or pondering, in which you're actively collecting information so you can move forward." So it's ok to not do a task immediately, as long as you're actually taking actions to prepare for it. The bottom line? Strive toward pondering, not procrastination.

7. Netflix and chilling
It turns out cozying up on the couch with your partner can actually improve your relationship. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that sharing media — like TV shows, books and movies — with your partner can help you feel closer, especially if you're not part of the same social world. Previous research has shown that couples tend to feel more satisfied and committed to their relationship when both partners are part of the same social circle. So, if you're not hanging with the same friends on the regular, sharing "media experiences" can have a similar effect, says researchers. Our advice? Grab the remote and start snuggling.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has breast cancer

Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced she has breast cancer in a post on her official Twitter account. "1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I'm the one," Louis-Dreyfus wrote. The 56-year-old actress went on to say "The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union." "The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let's fight all cancers and make universal healthcare a reality," she concluded.

The news comes on the heels of what has been a triumphant year for Louis-Dreyfus. She broke the record for the most Emmys won by a performer for a single role earlier this month, after snagging her sixth consecutive win for lead actress in a comedy for her work on HBO's "Veep." It was her seventh statue in that category overall as she had previously won in 2006 for "The New Adventures of Old Christine." HBO told CNN that Louis-Dreyfus received her diagnosis the day after her historic Emmy win.

Her health did not factor into the decision to end "Veep" with Season 7, which writers are currently working on. HBO added the show's production schedule will be adjusted if needed to accommodate its star. "Our love and support go out to Julia and her family at this time," HBO said in a statement. "We have every confidence she will get through this with her usual tenacity and undaunted spirit, and look forward to her return to health and to HBO for the final season of 'Veep.'" (HBO and CNN share parent company Time Warner.) Louis-Dreyfus has advocated for cancer research in the past by teaming up with the Livestrong Foundation, according to Web MD.

"I was asked, and it was a no-brainer," she told the site. The former "Seinfeld" star is also a long-time advocate of environmental causes and green living, leading to a Mediaplanet feature on her work. "My actions have an impact on humanity and generations to come," she told the publication.

Friday, September 22, 2017

This singer with alopecia inspired a young fan to embrace her alopecia too

“There is life without hair.” That statement may seem obvious to most, but it’s not the easiest concept for everyone to comprehend. Especially those with a common autoimmune skin disease like alopecia areata. Singer and makeup artist Keya “Gifted Keys” Trammell is one of the approximately 6.8 million people in the U.S. affected by this disease. And that’s the message she wants to send to people everywhere — “There is beauty without hair, standard without hair, knowledge without hair, character without hair, love without hair, passion without hair, success without hair, confidence without hair!” Her message reached one young girl with alopecia in August, and its impact was as meaningful to Trammell as it was to the little girl. Trammell shared the experience on Instagram. Trammell was performing in Kankakee, Ill., when she noticed a little girl in the crowd. “I’d seen Zion before the band and I had even begun our set.

I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if she has alopecia, or cancer?’” Trammell tells Yahoo Style. “About 10 minutes into the show, I saw Zion and her family walk up. She initially had a hat on and was just vibing out. Then I began to sing a song I wrote about two and a half years ago, ‘Next to Blow.’ I [also spoke] to the crowd about my life; about how I was bullied when I younger, how I dealt with self-esteem issues and lacked confidence because of my alopecia.” It was then that Trammell noticed Zion’s mother crying. “I knew right then and there that Zion also had alopecia,” she said. “When I glanced back at Zion, I saw her without her hat.

She was so beautiful to me! I just waved at her and smiled. She waved backed, stared wide-eyed at me and smiled. Afterward, Zion’s grandmother came to me and asked if her granddaughter and I could meet because she had alopecia. I’m like, YESSSSSSSSSSS!” The photo shows both ladies without hats, wigs, or hair. Trammell is crying, and Zion is beaming. “Zion’s mother thanked me for not wearing wigs,” Trammell wrote in the photo’s caption. “I was a role model for her baby girl and the way that felt.. Reaffirmed me of my destiny.” “When she walked up to me, I just began to cry. Like ugly cry,” Trammell says of Zion. “I told her over and over that she was beautiful. I also just hugged her mother so tight, and we cried. I also asked for a picture with Zion. Me being 25 and her being 4, I figured I would get on my knees so we could be level-headed and I just cried even more. She told me not to cry. I could not help myself and told her that I was happy.

My tears were happy tears. Her mother said that Zion could not stop staring at me. That did something to me. Like I understood even more why I existed on this earth.” Trammell lost all her hair at the age of 2 due to alopecia universalis. “My hair grew back fully at around 6 but has always grown in patches,” she said. So she’s been wearing weaves and wigs since she was in the first grade. “I now just shave off the hair that does grow on my head. Sometimes I let it grow so my spots can truly be seen, but it’s easier to just shave.” She now has alopecia areata, which causes hair loss on the scalp, face, and sometimes on other areas of the body, and has a lifetime risk of 2.1 percent. The hair follicles remain alive, and hair can regrow at any time, which is why it sometimes grows back in patches. Because of this, Trammell has spent much of her life dealing with bullying and self-esteem issues. “I truly used to struggle to even look in the mirror and tell myself I was beautiful. My mother would force me to do it even when I didn’t want to.” One day as a senior in high school, things changed. “I was in class, and a classmate made a joke. I laughed [moving my head up and down], and my wig fell off. Everyone laughed.

My teacher even laughed. I went to the restroom and just cried,” she recalls. “A classmate ran into the bathroom after me to see if I was OK and asked to actually see my hair. I let her see, and she just hugged me. She helped make me feel comfortable.” It was after that Trammell found the courage to shave off her hair. “I remember waking up one morning and shaving all of the hair that I did have off. I still ended up putting a wig on to go to school, but that day when I went to school I felt like I had a secret — that I’d finally accepted myself. I wasn’t ready to share that with world; I’d shared it with myself,” she said. “I was 18 when that happened. I am now 25. Just now able to fully go day by day with my crown exposed to the world.” “I’d been battling myself for some time on if I would continue to wear wigs off and on or just go bald on an everyday basis,” Trammell tells Yahoo Style. “I truly wanted to make a concerted effort to see how I would feel just being myself every day.” So she did. And she says it’s been “the most liberating experience” of her life. “I noticed that going bald every day helped me like myself more. I wouldn’t get headaches from tight wigs or burn marks from glue adhesive. I noticed people treat me different when I am bald. I notice people love me more for being confident and just being myself,” she says. “That feeling began to be something that I needed.

The feeling of beginning to feel more beautiful without wigs when I looked in the mirror began to help me want to help others feel good about themselves. To be beautiful on the inside and out. To be beautiful with a PURPOSE. I learned that having alopecia was a gift.” Sure, she might put a wig on sometime in the future, but “a wig is just another option for me,” she tells us. “Depending on if I want to go in formation like BeyoncĂ©, J.Lo, or Jill Scott for the day. I know I have that option. But the most important option is being able to wake up in the morning and just be me.”

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Egg freezing may not delay chemo for breast cancer patients

Women diagnosed with breast cancer who want to freeze their eggs and embryos before tumor treatment leads to infertility can do this without delaying the start of chemotherapy, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers focused on 89 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who received counseling at a fertility clinic about a relatively new technique known as random-start ovarian stimulation. This process doesn’t wait for a woman’s natural menstrual cycle to stimulate the ovaries to release eggs and can be done in about two weeks, compared with four to six weeks with older ovarian stimulation techniques timed to coincide with menstruation.

Overall, 67 of the women proceeded with random-start ovarian stimulation before beginning cancer treatment. With fertility treatment, women started chemotherapy an average of 38 days after their breast cancer diagnosis, compared with 39 days when patients decided against fertility preservation. “What this tells us is these women can still go on to build a family,” said senior study author Dr. Mitchell Rosen, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California San Francisco. “It only takes two weeks, and it isn’t going to cause any delay in their cancer treatment,” Rosen said in a telephone interview. When chemotherapy is needed soon after a breast cancer diagnosis, doctors generally advise that it begin within four to six weeks to avoid hurting women’s survival odds. Chemotherapy can cause infertility by damaging the ovaries and by triggering an early menopause in women of childbearing age.

For the study, researchers examined data from medical records for breast cancer patients between the ages of 18 and 45 who were referred to the UCSF Center for Reproductive Health between 2011 and 2017 before starting chemotherapy. Women started chemotherapy at roughly the same time whether or not they decided to first harvest eggs and freeze eggs or embryos, researchers report in Human Reproduction. One limitation of the study is that it didn’t look at other reasons beyond fertility preservation that might influence how long it takes for women to start chemotherapy, such as tests to pinpoint the type of tumors imaging to find out how far cancer has spread or patients making arrangements to take time off of work or prepare their lives for chemo.

The study also wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how fertility preservation directly influences the time it takes to start chemotherapy, and the results from one fertility center might not represent what all women would experience. Even so, the findings suggest that random-start ovarian stimulation may be a viable option for women with breast cancer or other types of malignancies who don’t want to lose their ability to have children after tumors are in remission, said Dr. Kutluk Oktay, director of the Innovation Institute for Fertility Preservation and IVF in New York and a researcher at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

“With this approach, a patient can be started on ovarian stimulation even on the day of the initial consultation and can be done with embryo or egg freezing in two weeks,” Oktay, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “And if she has more time, she can even do multiple cycles of freezing without risking a delay in chemotherapy,” Oktay said. “Random start extends all women who are considering embryo or egg freezing before chemotherapy for any type of cancer more flexibility and ability to preserve fertility with the least delay before initiating ovary damaging cancer treatments.”

Signs of Lymphedema

Lymphedema is somewhat unpredictable and doctors do not fully understand why some people develop lymphedema and others do not. People who have had several lymph nodes removed and/or radiation treatment in the axillary area (underarms) during cancer treatment are at higher risk of developing lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur after treatment for any type of cancer, but it is most commonly associated with breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, melanoma and cancers in the pelvic area such as bladder, testicular or gynecological cancers. Obesity, lack of exercise and infections after surgery are also risk factors.

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema:
-Swelling in the arm or leg (clothes or jewelry feel tighter)
-Arm or leg feeling heavy or tight
-Weakness, decreased flexibility, difficulty moving
-The skin thickens (hyperkeratosis) or hardens
-Pain and redness in the arm, hand, leg or foot

Friday, September 15, 2017

Women with Alopecia Share Powerful Photos and Stories

When Brittany Myers was just a little girl, her mother noticed that her hair was falling out while she was brushing it. After several test screenings and by the process of elimination, doctors diagnosed her with alopecia at just 7 years old. Alopecia is a type of hair loss that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles.

Now at 33, Myers is raising awareness during Alopecia Awareness Month, when many people with the condition take to social media to share their stories. “[Alopecia is] not a sickness. It’s not caused by stress. It’s simply a function of the body that we have no control over,” Myers tells Yahoo Beauty. “Throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, I would only have a missing patch of hair here or there — sometimes more and sometimes less,” she says. “When things were good, I didn’t think about it much. When things were bad, I worried a lot about one day losing all my hair.”

Myers overcame her fear of becoming bald when she was 26. One missing patch of hair grew bigger, so with the help of a stylist friend, she saw this as a sign that it was time to reinvent herself and her look. “Back then, I never imagined it wouldn’t grow back,” she says, “but I’ve been bald ever since.”

Myers says meeting other women with alopecia has been “hugely beneficial.” She explains, “It helped me begin to see the complex beauty in the baldness, in the challenge of it all, and finding that comfort over time helped me to shift focus away from alopecia and baldness.” Other women like Myers are sharing their inspiring journey with alopecia on Instagram, including powerful photos that illustrate how they’ve handled hair loss.

When discussing her resilience, Myers says, “Part of being strong is coming to terms with the fact that these are the cards I’ve been dealt. We’ve all been dealt something. I realized not too long ago that once you stop caring so much, once you stop focusing on it all the time, the rest of the world does too.” She continues, “So much freedom comes from acceptance and letting it go.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Apple-shaped women are at risk of a deadlier form of breast cancer (and those who store fat on their thighs, hips and buttocks are prone to a more treatable form of the disease)

Apple-shaped women are at risk of developing a deadlier form of breast cancer, a new study suggests. But those who have a pear-shaped figure, with fat stored on their thighs, hips and buttocks, are prone to a more treatable form of the disease.

For years, scientists have warned of the dangers of obesity due to evidence of its role in triggering breast cancer among other health risks. But the Chinese study shows the link between obesity and this form of the disease to be more complex than previously thought.

They discovered women with a higher BMI, which measured subcutaneous fat, were more likely to have ER+ (oestrogen-receptor positive) breast cancer. This form of the disease can be influenced by oestrogen, as the hormone can attach to proteins in cancerous cells to stimulate growth. Patients are often given Tamoxifen, a drug that costs 6p a day and which work by blocking oestrogen, which is known to stimulate the formation of tumour cells.

In contrast, those with a high waist-to-hip ratio, showing belly fat, were more likely to have ER- (oestrogen-receptor negative) breast cancer. This form of the disease can't be tackled with hormone blocking drugs, and have to go down traditional chemotherapy routes. The greater risk of developing ER- breast cancer for women with a high waist-to-hip ratio existed even if they weren't obese, Shandong University scientists noted.

Lead researcher Dr Zhigang Yu said: 'A possible reason is that subcutaneous fat is involved in estrogen production, which may promote ER+ breast cancer. 'Visceral fat is more closely related to insulin resistance and may be more likely to promote ER- breast cancer.' The researchers said that clinicians should assess ER- risk by assessing a woman's body shape before prescribing Tamoxifen, which is often given to those at high risk.

Experts stressed the findings, published in The Oncologist, were important as breast cancer is becoming a 'pandemic'. Around one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and the illness is becoming increasingly prevalent as the population ages. There were 55,222 new cases recorded in the UK in 2014 and 11,433 deaths. In the US, 252,710 are expected to receive a diagnosis this year. Around 40,000 will die.

Researchers recruited 1,316 women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer for the study. They were compared to a control group. Body measurements were taken, alongside details of their form of cancer - whether it was ER+ or ER- breast cancer.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?

Because many chemotherapy drugs are designed to effectively kill all rapidly dividing cells, hair is the unfortunate bystander that takes the fall along with the cancer cells. While some find the thought of losing their hair so distressing that they refuse chemotherapy, most people will see their locks grow back after the treatment has finished.

The level of hair loss, or chemotherapy-induced alopecia (CIA), depends on the type of cancer, the specific drug, and the dose and pattern of the treatment. Many patients experience the first wave of CIA within 1 to 2 weeks of starting their treatment. Areas that experience high friction during sleep, such as the top of the head and the sides above the ears, are often the first to see hair loss. Yet the precise pattern depends on the individual's hair. Those hairs that are actively growing will be most affected, but because growing hair follicles can be arranged in patches or evenly distributed all over the scalp, it is unfortunately impossible to predict the pattern of hair loss for any given individual.

Hair regrowth after chemotherapy usually starts within 1 to 3 months after the therapy has finished. Up to 60 percent of patients report a change in hair color or structure during the first wave of hair regrowth, with many experiencing curlier hair. However, these changes are mostly temporary, and hair returns to normal eventually.

Hair has important functions in culture and communication, and so CIA is consistently ranked top of the list of traumatic events for many patients that undergo chemotherapy. Some patients even consider refusing chemotherapy as a result of the impending threat of CIA. Treatments for CIA are, at best, experimental. Cooling the scalp with ice packs or special caps was first introduced in the 1970s. The theory underlying this treatment is that cooling will narrow the blood vessels leading to the hair follicles. Some studies have reported success rates of up to 50 percent with this technique, but there is clearly a need for more effective therapies.

Very little is known about how chemotherapy drugs cause CIA. Most information stems from studies using mouse models. Here, research has shown that programmed cell suicide, or apoptosis, is the most likely cause of cell death in the hair follicle, causing the hair to fall out. Researchers in the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago, IL, used genome-wide association studies to compare the genetic signature of breast cancer patients who had experienced CIA with that of those who had not. They found several candidate genes that might be implicated in the loss of functional hair follicles. One of these, CACNB4, is part of a calcium channel that plays an important role in cell growth and apoptosis. Another gene, BCL9, was active in a subset of CIA patients and is known to play a role in hair follicle development. Armed with this knowledge, scientists are continuing their quest to develop effective inhibitors of chemotherapy-induced hair loss, hoping to reduce the burden that this unwanted side effect has on cancer patients.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How one app is helping to tighten the link between cancer patients and their doctors

When chemotherapy patient Allison Hailey meets with Dr. Angela Kueck at Texas Oncology in Austin, she comes prepared. That is because Hailey's phone displays graphs, charts and logs of her medications, mood changes and physical health — courtesy of an app called ChemoWave. Since its launch on June 29, ChemoWave is giving chemotherapy patients and their doctors more insight on treatment plans, side effects and mental health. The app arrives on the scene at a time when health care is becoming a major focus for tech giants like Amazon and Apple, and joins an increasingly crowded field of biometric tech that helps people track vital health information.

ChemoWave is designed to help track a wide variety of vital data like symptoms, exercise, water intake and medications. It then compiles those figures into a health compliance database, then graphs the information so patients — and their doctors — can connect what symptoms are related to what medication or activity. Patients can also send daily updates to their doctors, which can be critical when treating cancer. A recent study by the Journal of the American Medicine Association found a 21 percent increase in survival time for patients who tracked and reported their symptoms. Thirty-one percent were more likely to report better quality of life and physical functions, the study said. "I have a better understanding as opposed to when I see [Hailey] every couple weeks in the office with her trying to remember what side effects she had on what day," Kueck told CNBC. "You can see trends over time, so we can plan for her next cycle" of chemo, she added. "It improved communication and we're connected more."

Matt Lashey, the developer of the app and co-founder of Treatment Technologies & Insights, came up with ChemoWave when his partner Richard Grenell was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Each morning, Lashey would administer Grenell a survey about how he was feeling emotionally and physically, along with any side effects. Lashey's background in data analysis propelled him to do some correlation analysis from the surveys to track Grenell's symptoms. "I started doing some simple correlation analysis to see what things were related to his highs and lows, and our doctor loved (the charts)," the former research consultant for Discovery Communications and Nationwide Insurance told CNBC. "We could point to very specific days when something had occurred, and having those graphs and data really led to a lot more efficient collaboration with him." ChemoWave features an added benefit, according to Kueck: helping to improve communication between patient and doctor. "I might see a patient every three weeks, and when trying to recount what happened on day two or four, it's hard for them to remember so it does take a lot of time of the visit," Kueck said. Using the app, she now gets daily updates.

Kueck said there haven't been any widely used apps among her patients, and ChemoWave is fulfilling a large need among those involved in chemotherapy. "I'm already in the loop. We can just talk about today and the future. It's definitely streamlined the visits in the office," she said. ChemoWave is free to download, in order to get it as widely disseminated as possible, according to Lashey. He's also meeting with care organizations, doctors and pharmaceutical companies to explore future partnerships and possible financing. "There could be a lot of money to be made if we were to charge money for this app, but we decided that the real value is in the data," Lashey said. "The hope is that getting it into the hands of patients will start to add value to their life on an immediate basis, and that if we can stick with this and we can get the app with funding that we need, there's going to be money to be made in the future," he added. Grenell is now healthy and sees his doctor regularly, while Hailey said she plans on using the app throughout her treatment. "It does exactly what it's supposed to do, and it provides even more information for a patient to have some control over what what's going on with us," she said.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Large diet study suggests it's carbs, not fats, that are bad for your health

A large, 18-country study may turn current nutritional thinking on its head. The new research suggests that it's not the fat in your diet that's raising your risk of premature death, it's too many carbohydrates -- especially the refined, processed kinds of carbs -- that may be the real killer. The research also found that eating fruits, vegetables and legumes can lower your risk of dying prematurely. But three or four servings a day seemed to be plenty. Any additional servings didn't appear to provide more benefit. What does all this mean to you? Well, a cheeseburger may be OK to eat, and adding lettuce and tomato to the burger is still good for you, but an excess of white flour burger buns may boost your risk of dying early. People with a high fat intake -- about 35 percent of their daily diet -- had a 23 percent lower risk of early death and 18 percent lower risk of stroke compared to people who ate less fat, said lead author Mahshid Dehghan. She's an investigator with the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario. The researchers also noted that a very low intake of saturated fats (below 3 percent of daily diet) was associated with a higher risk of death in the study, compared to diets containing up to 13 percent daily.

At the same time, high-carb diets -- containing an average 77 percent carbohydrates -- were associated with a 28 percent increased risk of death versus low-carb diets, Dehghan said. "The study showed that contrary to popular belief, increased consumption of dietary fats is associated with a lower risk of death," Dehghan said. "We found no evidence that below 10 percent of energy by saturated fat is beneficial, and going below 7 percent may even be harmful. Moderate amounts, particularly when accompanied with lower carbohydrate intake, are probably optimal," she said. These results suggest that leading health organizations might need to reconsider their dietary guidelines, Dehghan noted. But not everyone is ready to throw out current dietary guidelines. Dr. Christopher Ramsden is a clinical investigator with the U.S. National Institute on Aging. "There's a lot more information that's needed. They did a great job and they're going to have a lot more coming out of it for years to come, but it's hard to get it down to recommendations regarding food at this point," he said. "It really highlights the need for well-designed randomized controlled trials to answer some of these questions," Ramsden added.

The researchers noted that their study did not look at the specific types of food from which nutrients were derived. And, that, said Bethany O'Dea, constitutes a "major flaw from a nutrition standpoint." O'Dea is a cardiothoracic dietitian with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "For example, eating a healthy carb like an apple is more nutrient dense and better for you than eating a bag of processed potato chips," O'Dea said. "Furthermore, the study did not take trans fats into account, which hold heavy evidence of being unhealthy and contributing to cardiovascular disease," she pointed out. Current global guidelines recommend that 50 percent to 65 percent of a person's daily calories come from carbohydrates, and less than 10 percent from saturated fats, the researchers said. Dehghan suggested that "the best diets will include a balance of carbohydrates and fats, approximately 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates and around 35 percent total fat, including both saturated and unsaturated fats." All foods contain three major macronutrients essential for life -- fat, carbohydrate and protein. The optimum amounts a person should eat has been the focus of debate for decades, with the pendulum swinging from low-fat to low-carb diets over time.

For this study, Dehghan and her colleagues tracked the diet and health of more than 135,000 people, aged 35 to 70, from 18 countries around the world, to gain a global perspective on the health effects of diet. Participants provided detailed information on their social and economic status, lifestyle, medical history and current health. They also completed a questionnaire on their regular diet, which researchers used to calculate their average daily calories from fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The research team then tracked the participants' health for about seven years on average, with follow-up visits at least every three years. The investigators found that high-carbohydrate diets are common, with more than half of the people deriving 70 percent of their daily calories from carbs. High-carbohydrate diets have been linked with increases in both blood cholesterol and in the chemical building blocks of cholesterol, Dehghan said. While the experts continue debating what's the best diet, what should you be eating? O'Dea said, "Your diet should consist of healthy carbs, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Remember to avoid processed snacks that contain trans and saturated fats, and opt for a healthy carb source." The study was scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain. The research was being published online as two studies on Aug. 29 in The Lancet.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Is our love of protein hurting our health? Make sure you're eating the right amount

The protein powder aisle is beginning to look like the cereal aisle. Dozens of options, an abundance of ingredients and colorful packaging, with promises of better health. The market for more protein in the American diet has arrived — and it’s not going away. The attraction to protein as a weight-loss and muscle-building nutrient has exploded so exponentially that many of us may be getting more than medical experts think we need.

Recently, a story came out about a woman who died after consuming an extremely high-protein diet. She was a body builder and suffered from a rare genetic condition called urea cycle disorder. This condition is an inborn error of metabolism and can be diagnosed in both children and adults. Those who have it may have a diminished ability to break down protein in the correct manner. As a consequence, the byproducts of protein don't leave the body like they should. Instead, they build up in the blood, and can cause coma or death.

According to the National Urea Cycles Disorder Foundation, the condition may be mild, and undiagnosed for years if the individual carrying it produces enough enzymes to remove these protein byproducts from the blood. It’s when the body is pushed to the limit that problems may occur. An excessively high intake of protein can be one of these stressors.

Death from too much protein intake is not something you hear of every day, but there are certainly people who should focus on getting less (not more) protein in their diets. For example, individuals who have chronic kidney disease, certain diseases of the liver as well as phenylketonuria (PKU) and other inherited disorders all require a low-protein diet. On the opposite end of this are populations that need more protein: endurance or weight-training athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding women, individuals recovering from surgery or injury and elderly. Then, there's the rest of us. What’s the protein sweet spot for everyone inside the extreme ranges and can we keep including all the bars, powders and liquids safety and effectively?

Unlike other macro and micronutrients, there remains no official standard defining an upper limit for protein consumption, and most government standards recommend a bare bone minimum to be assessed by a universal calculation that takes your weight in kilograms multiplied by 0.8. For example, if you are a healthy, 150-pound woman, your low end of protein would start at 54.5 grams per day, and as for your high end, there’s really no agreement on what that is.

Bottom line: Should we take a chill on this very hot macronutrient? Will death by protein be the next fear derived from food? My advice to my patients is this: Embrace protein and the many benefits it can provide to health, but resist the urge to triple or quadruple your recommended amounts on a regular basis by downing protein drinks the way you would water. Going to this extreme may mean you're skimping out on other important macronutrients, like healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. While it may not lead to death in relatively healthy individuals, too much for too long may put too much stress on your kidneys, which can lead to other serious problems.

Some liquid forms of protein and protein powders and drinks can be loaded with additional supplements and herbs, added sugar or excess amounts of sugar alcohols (which can lead to diarrhea) or artificial sweeteners. Just like any other dietary choice, you’ll want to find the options that best fit your goals. If you’re a vegetarian or dairy intolerant, your best bet is a plant-based option made with pea, soy, hemp or rice. If you're not interested in a plant-based form, then whey, or bone broth products may work best for you. Do your research, and try a few single packet options before you settle on buying an entire vat of it.

A powder or drink can never mimic whole foods, so use them as a way to boost your protein for one meal, or after a workout, for example, but not exclusively. You can get plenty of protein in the day by adding in small amounts at each meal, like sprinkling hemp seed in your yogurt in the morning, enjoying canned wild salmon over a salad for lunch, munching on roasted chick peas as a snack and ending the day with a grilled tempeh sandwich. In the world of food, you can have too much of ANY good thing. Protein included.