Studies aim to prevent breast cancer, but focus is still on early detection


Although early detection is still the main weapon used by doctors to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer in women, studies have also focused on prevention. The results of the work show ways that can reduce the risks of the disease, which in Brazil alone recorded 66,000 cases per year between 2020 and 2022 according to the Inca (National Cancer Institute), being the most prevalent type among Brazilian women.

The habits pointed out by the studies include healthy eating, physical exercises, lower alcohol intake and even the use of specific medications.

Doctors heard by Sheet highlight the difference between prevention and detection. While the first is focused on external factors that, if modified, reduce the risk of the disease, the second concerns tests and strategies for diagnosing early-stage cancer.

“The biggest factor in developing cancer [de mama] is to have been born a woman”, says clinical oncologist Solange Moraes Sanches, deputy leader of the Breast Tumor Reference Center at Hospital AC Camargo.

According to the doctor, monthly hormonal cycles are directly associated with the disease, and advancing age is another factor that adds to this equation.

Oncologist Pedro Exman, from the Oncology Center at the Hospital Alemão Oswaldo Cruz, says, however, that external factors are increasingly influential.

“It is increasingly clear that cancer is a multifactorial disease. There are factors of the patient, the person itself, such as genetics, family history and specific mutations of some gene”, he points out.

A study published in April 2020 in the journal Jama Network showed that healthy habits can reduce the risk of developing the disease. Over 10 years, researchers evaluated a group of nearly 100,000 post-menopausal British women registered with Biobank UK.

“What we saw in this study was that breast cancer was related to patients with a higher body mass index, who took hormone replacement for periods longer than five years, who used contraceptives for a longer time and who consumed more alcohol” , says Sanchez.

The study also indicates that patients with a low genetic risk, when they do not lead a healthy lifestyle, also develop tumors. “This environmental factor is very important”, highlights the doctor.

According to the experts consulted, the rate of hereditary breast cancer is 5% to 10% and these cases are known to develop before age 40.

“The fact that a woman in the family has breast cancer does not necessarily imply that the other women are at the greatest risk, because she may suddenly have an environmental factor that has had a greater weight”, points out the oncologist.

Another encouraging prospect is drugs and new forms of detection that could help even more people. In the drug group, a review published in the Jama Network in 2019 showed that the use of tamoxifen, raloxifene and aromatase inhibitors was associated with a lower risk of primary invasive breast cancer in women.

“As we know that breast cancer grows by stimulation of female hormones, these drugs have an anti-hormonal action. They block this stimulation”, says oncologist Daniel Cubero, professor at FMABC (Faculty of Medicine at ABC ).

However, such medications are not for the general public, but for preventive use in “those who have already had breast cancer or people at very high risk, for example, carriers of a genetic syndrome.”

The study also highlighted that among the side effects of these medications are the intensification of menopausal symptoms such as heat, vaginal dryness, reduced libido, loss of bone mass, changes in mood and sleep.

Among the new methods of detection and tracking is a device developed by Indian researchers that aims to identify the biomarker of the disease from blood samples. This is a new method that can make treatment increasingly personalized.

According to a note released by Nature India, “the results suggest that the sensor could be used in clinical settings for rapid detection.”

Daniel Cubero, oncologist and professor at the Centro Universitário FMABC (Faculty of Medicine of the ABC), considers, however, that even if all risk factors were eliminated, the disease would not cease to exist. But he points a way. “If you have the opportunity to identify the lesion early on, before this process of spread, you remove the disease and cure the individual”

Therefore, early detection of the disease remains the apple of the eye of specialists. The oncologist at Oswaldo Cruz points out that the ideal is the diagnosis of breast cancer to be made before the disease manifests symptoms.

“Mammography will not prevent its appearance, but it will make the diagnosis when it is still subclinical and the patient does not feel anything, but there is a change. If you are going to see both prevention and screening complete, one is as important as the other. “

Although the disease affects one in eight women, according to the American Cancer Association, doctors point out that the results of the treatments are encouraging. “Breast cancer, nowadays, has a very high cure rate”, points out Exman. “We have diagnosed patients earlier.”

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