Quick Study

Quick Study: Breast cancer, smoking cessation

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Dense breasts may contribute to cancer's return.

THE QUESTION After treatment for breast cancer, does the density of a woman's breasts affect whether the cancer will return.

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 335 women with breast cancer who had a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the tumor and some surrounding tissue); 70 percent of them also had radiation treatment. In the next seven years, cancer had recurred in the breasts of 34 women -- about 15 percent of those with the most-dense breasts and 3 percent of those with the least-dense breasts. No link was found between breast density and the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. However, radiation treatment offered protection against the cancer's returning. No difference in recurrence rates, based on breast density, was found among women who had radiation. But among those who did not have radiation, the study estimated that 40 percent of the women with high-density breasts would have a recurrence within 10 years, compared with no women with low-density breasts.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women with breast cancer who have a lumpectomy. This is called breast-conserving surgery because, of all surgery options, it involves removing the least amount of tissue -- only the cancerous tumor and some tissue around it. An estimated 12 percent of women in the United States, roughly one in eight, will develop breast cancer at some point.

CAVEATS The reason breast density seems to affect cancer recurrence remains unclear.

FIND THIS STUDY Nov. 9 online and Dec. 15 print issue of Cancer.

LEARN MORE ABOUT breast cancer at http://www.cancer.gov and http://www.cancer.org.

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