Detecting Breast Cancer Early Can Help Diminish Risk

Megan Ray  |  May 9, 2014

In 2013, there were more than 230,000 new cases of breast cancer in women in the U.S., almost 40,000 of which resulted in death. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common variety of the disease experienced by women after skin cancer and second only to lung cancer in the number of deaths it causes.

Although women face a 1-in-8 risk of developing breast cancer, the number of fatalities caused by the condition has seen a steady decline in recent years. According to the source, many doctors believe early detection methods to be largely responsible for this drop. The sooner a person becomes aware that she has cancer, the earlier treatment can begin, and the more likely it may be to mitigate the chances of the cancer developing or metastasizing to other parts of the body. Cases of breast cancer that spread during later stages of the disease are most likely to be deadly.

New techniques for detecting cancer
Common techniques used to screen for breast cancer and other types of the disease include blood and tissue samples, as well as body scans. Two new methods aimed at finding cancer before it worsens, however, prove that scientists are still exploring numerous options in terms of innovative detection.

One technique recently tested in separate experiments by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Athens in Greece points to biomarkers as a useful tool for locating cancer cells. Their respective studies, published in Clinical Chemistry, suggest that certain proteins and microRNA fragments may exist in higher volumes within the blood and breast tissue of women who have breast cancer.

While the Cornell team focused on testing women before their first incidence of the disease, the scientists in Athens examined how it could indicate a relapse among women who had previously had breast cancer. According to Oncology Nurse Advisor, both groups saw a correlation between the amounts of certain microRNAs and the person's likelihood of developing cancer or relapsing from a prior case.

Another announcement from the cancer research community takes a vastly different approach to detecting the disease. A publication in Nature magazine highlights scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the University La Sapienza in Rome who studied fruit flies' sense of smell and determined that the insects were able to differentiate between normal and cancerous cells. In their experiments, the scientists genetically modified the flies so that they could map patterns of their neural olfaction. They then presented the flies with different samples, and were surprised to discover that the flies could not only identify the cancerous cells, but also tell the difference between various strains of breast cancer.

"As not only cancer cells can be distinguished from healthy cells, but also subgroups were discernable within the cancer cells, it seems that even different types of breast cancer cells can be differentiated via the antenna of Drosophila," said Alja Lüdke, one of the researchers from the University of Konstanz.

Treating seniors with cancer
Whether working with seniors who are experiencing early or later stages of breast cancer, caregivers should customize care for older cancer patients. The Cleveland Clinic recommends helping seniors with both the physical and psychological effects of the disease. One important aspect of care that may be overlooked is helping seniors stay involved in their treatment. This means helping them find the appropriate information so they can educate themselves, as well as ensuring they have the opportunity to speak personally with their physician. Cancer can present a variety of unique medical needs, and a doctor can also help caregivers understand how best to modify their aid to adjust to the senior's condition.

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