Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, regardless of ethnicity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 224,147 women and 2,125 men in the United States are diagnosed with the condition each year.
Research has come a long way in terms of diagnosis and treatment, but breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States, after lung cancer. The more we learn about this deadly disease and how it works, the more lives we can save.
Here is a roundup of the best research from 2015.
1. Decoding Soy’s Relationship with Breast Cancer
Soy has a complicated relationship with breast cancer; the legume can both prevent and promote tumor growth. A study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that when mice were fed minimally processed soy flour, they showed higher expression of genes that can stop tumor growth. However, when they were given purified isoflavones — a phytoestrogen found in soybeans — they showed stronger expressions of two types of genes that promote cancer cell growth.
For women, these findings could mean that eating whole soy foods, like tofu, might help prevent breast cancer. However, isoflavone dietary supplements may do the opposite.
2. Mediterranean Diet and Breast Cancer
You’ve probably heard that the Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. New research shows that it might help prevent breast cancer as well. Researchers in Spain compared women who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil with women who ate one supplemented with nuts. A third control group ate a regular diet with reduced fat intake. The group who ate the Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil showed a 68 percent lower risk of breast cancer than the control group.
While there were some limitations to the study, it’s a nice starting point to uncovering positive dietary changes women can make to prevent breast cancer.
3. New Optical Method Offers Faster, More Accurate Diagnosis
Researchers may have uncovered a more effective way to examine breast tissue for cancer. When cancer is suspected, doctors will normally perform a biopsy to remove a small area of the tumor to examine it more closely. The tissue is then stained with a dye and examined. This process can take time and can have errors, depending on how the sample was stained. A study published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics found that using a phase contrast microscope, which controls light to help the viewer see the magnified cells more clearly, made it possible to tell which tumors were cancerous and which were not.
4. New Way to Predict Cancer Risk
Swedish and Polish researchers have uncovered a new way to predict a woman’s risk for getting breast cancer, even if it doesn’t run in her family. The international study discovered that even healthy breast cells can have genetic abnormalities which can lead to cancer. Currently, women can be tested for gene mutations to find out if cancer runs in their family, but there is no way to test to see if they’re at risk based on other factors. This discovery could lead to the development of tests that allow cancer to be caught and treated much earlier.
5. Breakthrough in Treatment of Aggressive Form of Breast Cancer
The most aggressive form of breast cancer, basal-like breast cancer (BLBC), is more likely to spread to other areas of the body and not respond to traditional treatments. A breakthrough joint U.S.-Cyprus study published in Breast Cancer Research may have started science on the path to being able to effectively treat it. Researchers were able to identify molecules that are markers of BLBC, which were unknown before. This means they’re one step closer to being able to develop more effective drugs that target these markers.
6. Hormone Therapy May Reduce Infertility in Women Undergoing Chemo
New research published in the Annals of Oncology found that treating young women with hormone therapy when they’re undergoing chemotherapy may help prevent damage to the ovaries. This may result in a better chance of the patient being able to become pregnant after cancer treatment. Although more research is needed, this is promising news for women who receive breast cancer treatment and want to have a child.