Epidemiology, prevention, and early detection of breast cancer

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Abstract

The evidence that alcohol consumption increases a woman's chances of getting breast cancer is now more persuasive. Higher blood concentrations of organochlorine compounds were not associated with increased risk of breast cancer in recent studies. The relationship of exogenous estrogen use to breast cancer risk is now clarified: current users of both oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy experience a slightly elevated risk that dissipates after cessation of use. Alcohol consumption and hormone replacement therapy are both associated with slightly increased breast cancer risk, but the overall health benefits of hormone replacement therapy and low levels of alcohol consumption appear to outweigh the risks in the general population. These circumstances underscore the complex decisions facing women and the need to consider individual risk factor profiles. For the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, more data are needed to understand the risks associated with specific mutations, optimal implementation of genetic testing, and prevention and early detection strategies for women who have positive test results. Interesting leads in identifying women at increased risk for breast cancer have been generated via the study of genetic polymorphisms. The results of tamoxifen in the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial have made the possibility of chemoprevention for breast cancer a reality. Raloxifene, another antiestrogen, has emerged as a potential chemopreventive agent. Its efficacy in reducing breast cancer risk will be compared with that of tamoxifen in a randomized trial.

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